Ishin no Kai’s populist proposals

Osaka Ishin no Kai (association of Osaka reform), the local party led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, has announced an outline of its manifesto for the next Lower House election. Ever since the party scored overwhelming victories in the Osaka City mayoral and Osaka Prefecture gubernatorial elections held on Nov. 27, 2011, it has been attracting strong attention from the public and the established political parties. But it is important to consider whether its proposals will really help enhance people’s well-being or whether they are designed simply to grab attention.

Osaka Ishin no Kai’s most drastic proposals advocate the introduction of a system in which people directly elect the prime minister and call for the abolition of the Upper House. But the Constitution would have to be amended to accomplish these proposals. This means that Osaka Ishin no Kai members or its supporters would have to control two-thirds of the seats in both the Lower and the Upper House.

To overcome this daunting obstacle, Osaka Ishin no Kai proposes to change the number of Diet votes required to amend the Constitution to just half the seats in each house.

A system in which the prime minister is directly elected has at least two serious — and quite possibly dangerous — deficiencies. It could lead to the election of a populist politician who makes empty promises or leads the nation down a destructive path. Direct election of the prime minister and a one-chamber Diet might ensure quick political decisions, but such a system would not likely embrace deep and informed discussions on important issues, again increasing the chance that the nation might be led in an extreme direction.

To strengthen devolution, Osaka Ishin no Kai calls for introduction of a “do-shu system” — the creation of regional governments larger and more powerful than prefectural governments. But there is no guarantee that such governments would effectively respond to local residents’ needs because of the large distances separating them.

Osaka Ishin no Kai’s proposals appear to lack a core philosophy concerning the basic form of a state. It is not clear whether the party seeks to establish a social welfare-oriented state or a laissez faire-oriented state. As long as the party lacks philosophical coherence, its proposals will only sow confusion among the public.