Hashimoto threat to quit helm roils party

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Chaos continued to reign in Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) on Thursday as senior party members moved into damage control mode after Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto threatened Wednesday to resign as the party’s co-leader.

Over the past month, calls have grown within the party for Hashimoto to step down after the July 21 Upper House election, as domestic and international condemnation continues over his remarks in mid-May that Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system was necessary at the time, and that the U.S. military in Okinawa should consider using more sex establishments as a way to reduce sexual assaults.

Earlier this week, Shintaro Ishihara, the party’s other leader who offered initial support for Hashimoto’s views, changed his tune when he realized the damage being done to the party’s Upper House election chances. He called on Hashimoto to apologize, not for the comments but for the embarrassment they have caused.

On Wednesday evening, Hashimoto fired back at Ishihara by threatening to resign as co-head of the party if the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on Sunday goes poorly.

“It depends on the results of the Tokyo election. If we don’t receive voter support, there’s no point in continuing (as co-leader),” Hashimoto said.

That announcement set off panic in Nippon Ishin, which has just released its official campaign platform.

“It’s completely unnecessary to resign because of the results of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election,” Yorihisa Matsuno, secretary-general of Nippon Ishin’s Diet group, said Thursday, adding that even the Upper House poll results are unrelated to Hashimoto’s position as co-leader.

Toranosuke Katayama, policy chief of Nippon Ishin’s Diet group, added that if Hashimoto quits, it would cause a lot of trouble.

“Nippon Ishin is a party with the strong individual personalities and leadership of Hashimoto and Ishihara,” Katayama said, though he insisted that whatever differences exist between the two leaders can be overcome.

But Nippon Ishin’s popularity, especially in Tokyo and east Japan, is at an all-time low, while in Osaka, Hashimoto supporters and critics say it’s time for him to refocus on local issues.

The spat between Ishihara and Hashimoto, and the controversy over Hashimoto’s comments are a continuation of the rift between Ishihara and the party’s Osaka faction, led by Hashimoto.

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