Speculation is swirling among the politically well-connected that Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto may have agreed to help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pass contentious security legislation when the two met in Tokyo on Sunday.
Hours after the meeting, Hashimoto tweeted a number of messages discussing security issues. In one of them, he said his Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) should “draw a line” to distance itself from the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party.
Political insiders believe Hashimoto’s role may be to urge Ishin members to cooperate with the ruling camp to help enact the security bills.
Ishin is now reportedly split into Osaka-based lawmakers willing to help Abe’s Cabinet and Tokyo-based lawmakers trying to form a new opposition party with some DPJ members.
“Ishin attaches much importance to realistic rationality, being in a responsible position. It’s critically different from the DPJ,” wrote Hashimoto, who is one of the founders of Ishin and continues to exert great influence over other members of the party.
The DPJ has boycotted a number of Diet sessions over the security bills and has considerably delayed deliberations.
If Ishin sides with Abe and starts criticizing the DPJ, it would become tougher for the DPJ to boycott Diet sessions.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who attended Sunday’s three-hour meeting, has maintained close ties with some key Ishin members, including Hashimoto.
During a news conference Monday, Suga maintained that Abe and Hashimoto did not talk about how the security bills should be handled in the Diet.
“We didn’t have specific discussions. I think Ishin no To hasn’t changed its position at all, which is to support what is needed and oppose what is not,” Suga said.
Ishin President Yorihisa Matsuno, who was once a DPJ member, is believed to be willing to join forces with the DPJ, not Abe’s Cabinet.
But Ishin recently agreed with the ruling parties to arrange a Diet vote on another controversial administration-sponsored bill to deregulate rules about hiring temporary workers dispatched by personnel agencies.
That move has raised doubts over Matsuno’s leadership, and has raised speculation that Ishin may be ready to help the ruling camp pass the security bills.
The proposed legislation is designed to expand Self-Defense Forces operations overseas, including by allowing the SDF to engage in operations involving the right of collective self-defense, or the right to use force to come to aid an ally under attack even if Japan itself is not being attacked.
The war-renouncing Constitution had long been interpreted as banning exercising the right. But in July, Abe changed the government’s interpretation of the Constitution, and has since submitted bills to expand the scope of the SDF’s joint military operations with Japan’s allies, most notably the United States.
After a proposal by Ishin to merge the Osaka city and prefectural governments was voted down in a referendum last month, Hashimoto said he would retire from politics when his term ends in December.
But Hashimoto said he was willing to cooperate with Abe’s drive to revise the war-renouncing Constitution.