Hashimoto stays at helm despite fiasco, calls to exit

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Calls for Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader Toru Hashimoto to resign mounted Monday morning, after the party’s candidates were soundly beaten in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

But with the Upper House election less than a month away, party leaders said Hashimoto will stay at his post, with many of Nippon Ishin’s rank and file saying a leadership change now would simply further damage its popularity, which has plunged since Hashimoto’s May remarks were taken as an attempt to justify Japan’s wartime “comfort women” system of sexual slavery.

Hashimoto, who spent Sunday in Okinawa attending the memorial ceremony marking the 68th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, said Monday afternoon in Osaka that he had no plans to resign now.

“I want to continue as co-leader of Nippon Ishin and work toward the Upper House election,” he said.

Only two of Nippon Ishin’s 34 candidates in Sunday’s election managed to win. Party officials admitted voters were put off by Hashimoto’s comments that the wartime comfort women system had been necessary at the time and, to a lesser extent, by his suggestion to U.S. military personnel in Okinawa that they consider using paid sex establishments as a way to reduce sexual violence.

Last Wednesday, Hashimoto, who doubles a mayor of Osaka, said he may quit as the party’s co-leader, depending on the results of the Tokyo election. Nippon Ishin executives rushed to assure voters this would not happen, at least not until after the July Upper House poll.

With the party in disarray, the July election may also bode ill..

After Sunday’s drubbing, Takao Fujii, head of the party’s election committee, said Hashimoto’s contentious remarks, which sparked global outrage, played a role in Sunday’s massive defeat. But he also said there would be no immediate leadership changes.

“No matter the result, Hashimoto and (fellow co-leader Shintaro) Ishihara will be united in solidarity for the Upper House election,” Fujii said.

Also facing calls to resign as party secretary-general, Ichiro Matsui, Osaka’s governor, said Hashimoto would not resign because of Sunday’s defeat, adding, “He will not run away.”

On Monday morning, some Hashimoto supporters in Osaka were grumbling that Ishihara and the Tokyo candidates themselves must also share the blame, saying it was ridiculous from the beginning to expect an Osaka-based leader to have a major impact on a Tokyo election.

“Hashimoto is getting most of the blame. But why is nobody talking about Ishihara’s responsibility? This was Tokyo, after all, his hometown. And it seems like some losing candidates are using Hashimoto’s remarks as a convenient excuse for their own lack of effort or ability,” one Nippon Ishin member in Osaka said on condition of anonymity.

Ishihara, 80, admitted Monday to reporters in Tokyo that the huge loss was also his fault.

“I’m responsible as well. I couldn’t go and get around (to help with campaigning) very much because of my physical condition,” he said.

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