OSAKA – The breakup of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and the announcement by party co-founder Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto that he plans to launch a new party with at least a dozen Osaka-area Diet members once again exposes the deep rift between his Osaka followers and his detractors, many of whom are from outside the region.
But it also creates questions about how the wily Hashimoto, who still says he plans to retire from politics in December, might utilize the new party in advance of next summer’s Upper House election.
As of Tuesday, a dozen Diet members from the Osaka area had agreed to exit Ishin and join him next month when he forms another “startup” political party. This is taking place three years after he formed his first national political party, which tied up with former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and his Tokyo followers, and then, when that relationship fell apart, with Yokohama-based Kenji Eda and his small Unity Party.
However, unlike previous incarnations, the new version will be centered on national and local politicians from Osaka and, if possible, the Kansai region. Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui is expected to take a leading role in the new party.
“A total of 20 members (including local assembly members) is safe, but we’re aiming for about 30,” Hashimoto said in announcing the new party.
While details of the party’s platform are still being worked out, it is expected to contain many promises to realize the integration of the city of Osaka and the prefecture, and for more autonomy for Osaka and the Kansai region.
For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, the formation of the new party would appear to be good news. Hashimoto and Matsui, who before joining with Hashimoto was a senior leader of the prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party, have long had close relations with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Like Abe, Hashimoto and Matsui support constitutional revision and have right-wing views on education and modern Japanese history. A major victory by Hashimoto supporters in the Upper House election could give proponents of constitutional revision the numbers they need in both chambers to push it through.
The LDP and Hashimoto’s followers are generally in tune, politically and philosophically, on other issues as well, ranging from the now-stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to regulatory reform. On foreign policy, some Hashimoto followers are less hawkish than Abe on China and South Korea and more worried about tying Japan’s foreign policy too closely to that of the United States, although they basically support the U.S.-Japan security treaty.
But not everyone in Osaka is thrilled with the idea of Hashimoto launching a new party that has so much in common with the LDP.
Several members of local party Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) in the municipal and prefectural assemblies remain worried that a new party, with only a dozen or so Diet members, could end up being in essence just another faction of the LDP that finds little support in the Diet for specific Osaka and Kansai-related legislative proposals.
There is also the question of who replaces Hashimoto as mayor in November, if he does indeed retire. He hopes to find a suitable candidate within his own party, but none have the same degree of personal popularity that he commands.
A loss by a Hashimoto-backed candidate in that election could deal his fledging party a severe blow, making it extremely hard to recruit candidates for the Upper House election, even if he himself decides to run for the Diet, as many are urging him to do.