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Hashimoto, Matsui launch new national party focused on Osaka

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui once again ventured into national politics Thursday, announcing their new national party and saying it would be Osaka-focused.

“In order to revive the Japanese economy as a whole it’s important that Osaka become the country’s second engine of growth and prosperity, and that’s the reason for the new party,” Hashimoto said Thursday evening.

The new party will be called Osaka Ishin no Kai, with Osaka spelled in hiragana. The core leadership will include Hashimoto, Matsui and about a dozen Osaka-area Diet members who broke away from Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).

“The current Ishin no To is the fake Ishin. We’re returning to the party’s original goals, which emphasize Osaka’s integration and, eventually, the abolishment of the prefectural system and the introduction of the regional block system,” Hashimoto said.

The party’s leadership structure has yet to be decided, and an official English name has yet to be chosen, he added.

Asked about whether a party name with “Osaka” in it will limit its appeal elsewhere, Hashimoto said that putting “Osaka” in hiragana conveyed the idea of Osaka as a symbol, and representing the kind of deregulation he was seeking to achieve, rather than a specific geographical reference.

Osaka Ishin is expected to be an ally of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on issues such as constitutional revision and education reform, and will have virtually the same foreign policy as the LDP.

The party outline released Thursday also calls for electing the Prime Minister by popular vote, abolishing the Upper House, and establishing a constitutional court. There is also language about supporting an increased role for younger generations of women in society and establishing trust and cooperation between the older and younger generations.

However, the new party’s influence in the Diet will hinge on the outcome of the Nov. 22 Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

Anti-Osaka Ishin forces, including the local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, are preparing to take on Matsui, who will seek re-election. But the key race is for mayor. Ishin no To Lower House member Hirofumi Yoshimura, 40, resigned Thursday to run as Hashimoto’s successor.

Yoshimura joined Hashimoto and Matsui at Thursday’s news conference, promising to carry on the work Hashimoto started, especially his efforts to merge Osaka’s 24 wards, the first step toward integrating Osaka city and prefecture. A referendum on merging the city’s wards was defeated in May.

Yoshimura will face Osaka Municipal Councilman Akira Yanagimoto of the LDP, who served as the public face of the opposition movement that defeated Hashimoto’s efforts to merge Osaka’s wards in a referendum in May.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the November elections, and Matsui’s fate in particular, the number of Diet members who will ultimately join the new party is unclear. Of Ishin no To’s current 51 Diet members, over 20 have informally signaled they would join. The new party’s first convention will be held on Oct. 24.

“The new party will get back to the basics of the Osaka Ishin movement, which was about getting the Diet to support the integration of Osaka city and prefecture. Nippon Ishin lost that sense of mission,” Matsui told reporters earlier this week.

Ishin no To had long been divided into the Osaka and non-Osaka camps. The party’s head, Yorihisa Matsuno, a former Democratic Party of Japan member, and those Diet members not from Osaka had long been at odds with Hashimoto over not only the need to push for Osaka’s integration but also the way it handled the debate over the controversial security bills which were passed last month.

“Cooperating with the DPJ means that there cannot be reform,” Hashimoto said on his Twitter account Wednesday. The anti-union Hashimoto has always been negative about cooperating with the DPJ, whose support base includes civil servants and members of industrial unions.