Osaka Ishin walks a tightrope under its big top


Does the fate of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts (at least in the Diet) to revise the Constitution lie in Osaka?

That’s the question following a statement by Abe earlier this month that he hopes to cooperate with Osaka Ishin no Kai on the issue following July’s Upper House election.

It’s no secret that Abe has long admired Osaka Ishin, which favors the goal of constitutional revision even if it has doubts about aspects of Abe’s specific plans for doing so. But with a bit of luck in July, Abe and Osaka Ishin leaders hope, the small local party formed by former Mayor Toru Hashimoto will win enough seats to create a supermajority between the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and Osaka Ishin on the issue.

That, combined with the supermajority the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition enjoys in the Lower House, would mean, on paper, Abe has the numbers to pass the revision measures.

But that raises the question of what Osaka Ishin would demand from the ruling coalition in return for cooperating. Obviously, strong Diet support and financial assistance, if needed, for any “related costs” of merging Osaka’s wards would be at the top of its wish list.

How much money we might be talking about depends on where Osaka Ishin stands after July. If the party does well, Abe may be in a mood to grant Osaka Ishin various forms of funding. If it doesn’t, and if the end result is that there’s still no supermajority between the LDP and its allies, Osaka Ishin is likely to find its financial prospects greatly reduced.

The other question is whether other local “Ishin” parties outside those now being established or discussed (in Kyoto and in parts of Kyushu) will actually field winning candidates, and whether they’ll be able to work with Osaka Ishin if they get to the Diet. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

While many in the Ishin movement outside Osaka profess to fully support Osaka Ishin’s goals and plan to create their own “(insert locality here) Ishin no kai” parties under the “umbrella” of Osaka Ishin to carry them out, the reality is that, from dealing with China and South Korea to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to elderly care, their constituents have policy views that often clash with Osaka Ishin’s platform.

Thus, at the moment, the Ishin movement resembles less a group of like-minded souls gathering under a sturdy “umbrella” held by Osaka Ishin than a variety of different acts gathering under a circus tent where Osaka Ishin is trying to play ringmaster.

Of course, all of the clowns, jugglers and fire-eaters entering the Osaka Ishin big top via the party’s political school that started up this month are unlikely to jump through the party hoops unless they feel their association with Osaka Ishin will not only win them applause (votes) but, more importantly, money. If they discover they’re participating in a de facto LDP faction but one without the LDP’s wallet, well, what’s the point of staying loyal to Osaka Ishin?

Such questions will be addressed over the coming weeks in the party’s political school. About 200 people applied to attend what is a training ground for the Upper House election. How many of the 200 end up running, and actually winning, will determine whether the results of this summer’s Upper House election see Osaka Ishin recognized as a national political force that can help change the Constitution, or dismissed as an isolated movement, a noisy peanut gallery of back-benchers who are tolerated but not taken seriously because they don’t have the numbers or influence to fundamentally change anything, least of all the Constitution.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.