National / Politics | ANALYSIS

Hashimoto makes a strategic exit, freeing up possible alignment of Ishin and DPJ

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has dropped out of national politics, at least for now, to concentrate on his plan to integrate Osaka city and prefecture and to cease being an obstacle, he says, to a grand realignment of like-minded opposition politicians.

“What’s necessary are two large, strong parties. Within the Democratic Party of Japan, strong voices are saying (Ishin no To and the DPJ) could come together if Hashimoto is not involved. If opposition realignment will progress without me, I’d like it to go ahead,” Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka on Wednesday.

Many in Ishin have expressed reservations about joining forces with the DPJ. Among them are Kenji Eda, who became party president after Hashimoto’s resignation as co-leader.

However, following the resignation of Banri Kaieda as DPJ president after his defeat in the Dec. 14 election, Eda has appeared more open to a merger with other parties, including the DPJ, as long as they reached an agreement on basic policies.

The anti-union Hashimoto and Eda had long said it would be tough to work with the DPJ because it is strongly supported by trade unions like Rengo, raising the possibility of creating a new party with conservative DPJ members and Ishin at its core.

Hashimoto’s resignation as Ishin co-leader was partly forced by the situation he faces in Osaka as mayor. The fundamental goal of his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) local political group is the Osaka integration plan, which would realign Osaka’s 24 wards into five semiautonomous zones, and integrate the rest of the prefecture into one bureaucratic entity.

But Osaka Ishin holds only 30 of the 85 municipal assembly seats and 47 of the 103 prefectural assembly seats. The integration plan is strongly opposed by all other parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which has nominally served as Osaka Ishin’s partner. Both assemblies voted the plan down in October.

Angry at Komeito in particular, Hashimoto and Osaka Ishin are now backing a petition campaign in Osaka city calling for a referendum on the plan.

At least 43,000 signatures of registered voters are needed for Hashimoto to submit a referendum proposal to the city assembly. Osaka Ishin officials are confident they can reach that total — and far surpass it — because the national Ishin received 330,000 proportional-representation votes in Osaka city in the recent Lower House election.

With both assemblies in the hands of the opposition, any referendum proposal would be voted down. Hashimoto’s goal, however, is to place pressure on the LDP and Komeito in advance of the April elections and increase his party’s chances of capturing a majority in both assemblies.

It will be a tough election. The LDP and Komeito will be cooperating in the Osaka elections, fielding candidates against Osaka Ishin. If the petition drive fails to generate significant voter interest by its mid-February deadline for collecting signatures, the mayor and his party worry it will mean losses at the April polls, creating further questions about their own political futures.

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