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Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), co-headed by populist Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, captured 54 seats in the December 2012 Lower House election, making it, and him, national political forces.

But after two years of infighting, which led to a massive drop in popularity, a party split and a name change, Hashimoto’s Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) is fighting for its political life, especially in its Kansai/Osaka base.

Of Ishin no To’s 42 lawmakers in the Lower House, 19 represent single-seat districts in the Kansai prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga, Osaka, Hyogo and Wakayama. Twelve of those single-seat districts are in Osaka Prefecture, which has a total of 19 electoral districts.

In 2012, Hashimoto cooperated with Komeito, agreeing not to field candidates in districts where Komeito wanted to run — especially in Osaka. In exchange, he said, Komeito would support his plans to merge the city and prefecture of Osaka.

But over the past year, after Komeito made it clear it would not support Hashimoto’s reform plan, relations between the two parties worsened. Late last month, Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who serves as Ishin no To secretary-general, were making plans to run against Komeito candidates in two Osaka districts.

With the backing of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, Komeito is particularly strong in Osaka. Ishin no To insiders worried that a loss of Hashimoto or Matsui would lead to a backlash against their local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) party in next April’s local assembly elections. In the end, both men decided not to run.

The drama over whether Hashimoto would resign again as mayor to run in the Lower House election only nine months after he resigned and called a mayoral election in March over his merger plan could still result in a voter revolt.

Late last week, some local media predicted that the party will lose at least a dozen seats, with voters likely to swing to either the Liberal Democratic Party or the Democratic Party of Japan.

Hashimoto also failed to convince conservative lawmakers in the DPJ to join him in setting up a new party. Some in Ishin no To hoped Seiji Maehara, who represents the Kyoto No. 2 district — home to the historic Gion neighborhood and Kyoto University — might join a new party. But nothing came out of these efforts. This left Ishin no To without political allies.

The party’s other co-leader, Kenji Eda, has been at odds with Hashimoto over campaign strategy.

With a Dec. 1 poll by NHK showing Ishin no To’s national support rate at just 1.9 percent, Hashimoto’s election strategy is to go for voters’ wallets.

“I don’t reject ‘Abenomics’ entirely, and I agree with its general direction. But an economic policy of public works projects is a mistake. If you’re going to spend ¥5 trillion in tax money, it would be better to distribute coupons of ¥100,000 each to 50 million low- and middle-income earners,” Hashimoto said Tuesday.

Some observers dismiss his proposal as hollow.

“This plan is a one-time effort to buy the support of voters. But it doesn’t take into account the more important issue of how to raise salaries and income. This election is going to be a very tough one for Hashimoto and Ishin no To,” said Yuji Yoshitomi, an Osaka-based author of several books on Osaka politics.

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