National / Politics

Ex-Ishin no To members refuse to give up seal, bankbook as party paralyzed by leadership struggle

by Mizuho Aoki and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

The nation’s second-largest opposition party may be on the verge of vanishing as rebellious members, who hold the party’s official stamp and bankbook, threaten procedures to legally disband Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party).

Osaka-based Ishin members, led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, have recently been ousted from the party. They are now preparing the launch of a new national party called Osaka Ishin no Kai on Oct. 31.

The Osaka group argues that their expulsion is invalid, and are preparing to hold what they call a party convention on Saturday, at which they intend to disband Ishin no To.

Ishin no To’s main office is in Osaka, and the Osaka-based ex-members reportedly hold the party leader’s inkan seal, which can be used to legally disband Ishin no To by filing an application with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

“I have absolutely no desire to disband the party,” Yorihisa Matsuno, the party’s leader, told a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon. “(The event on Saturday) is absolutely not a formal party convention.”

Matsuno pointed out that he was still registered at the ministry as the party’s representative.

“Based on common sense, I don’t think the ministry will accept” an application to disband the party, Matsuno said.

But according to ministry officials, it does not have the authority to investigate the internal affairs of a party, and could accept an application form that is filled out correctly and meets all requirements.

Internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi has declined to comment on whether the ministry would accept such an application if it was submitted.

“I’d like to wait and see how things will develop,” Takaichi said at a regular news conference Tuesday.

Matsuno also pointed out that, under the party’s rules, a party convention should be convened by the party head, an order he had not given.

Saturday’s meeting was therefore not a party convention, and had no power to disband the party, Matsuno argued.

However, former Osaka members, including Hashimoto, have openly challenged the legitimacy of Matsuno’s leadership.

On July 14, a meeting of the party leadership extended Matsuno’s term as party president, which was due to expire at the end of September.

Hashimoto has claimed that the decision was invalid, because it did not receive the endorsement of a party convention, which, according to party rules, is the top decision-making platform.

The all-out political fight between the Osaka-based members and non-Osaka-based members also involves Ishin’s huge political funds.

About ¥666 million in government subsidies for political parties was paid to Ishin no To’s bank account Tuesday, but the bankbook and the party stamp needed to withdraw the money are also in the hands of the Osaka side, which is refusing to hand them over to the Tokyo-based party leadership.

Currently unable to withdraw money from the bank account, Secretary-General Masato Imai told reporters that his side was preparing countermeasures for a worst-case scenario, “including legal actions.”

Meanwhile, four of the party’s Diet members caught in the middle of the fight, including former environment minister Sakihito Ozawa, tendered letters of resignation to the party Thursday evening. A few more members are expected to follow suit, according to media reports.

The feud from which the recent mudslinging has stemmed began with differing views about the party’s direction, which boiled over earlier this month after the leadership rejected demands from the Osaka-based members to formally split the party, and the political subsidies from the government, in two.

Last week, Ishin no To expelled 165 of its members, including 12 Diet members, after its leadership received a notice from Osaka-based Diet members announcing Saturday’s extraordinary party convention.