National / Politics

Election wins energize Osaka Ishin

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The landslide victories scored Sunday by the Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) local political group in the gubernatorial and mayoral elections give its new national counterpart a strong advantage in recruiting for next summer’s Upper House election and have the establishment parties on their heels.

They also give outgoing Mayor Toru Hashimoto more national clout as the major parties in the Diet wonder what his next move will be, whether he will soon come to Tokyo in some capacity, and whether the Ishin movement he founded will spread to other prefectures.

Osaka Ishin no Kai is the Japanese name of both Hashimoto’s new national party and his local political group, except the national party name uses the hiragana for Osaka rather than the kanji.

Despite the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, challenger Takako Kurihara lost the governor’s race to the incumbent, Osaka Ishin-backed Ichiro Matsui, by about 1 million of roughly 3.9 million votes cast. However, the real shock was the defeat of LDP-, JCP- and DPJ-backed Akira Yanagimoto by Hashimoto’s hand-picked successor as mayor, Hirofumi Yoshimura.

Yanagimoto enjoyed a high profile as the voice of opposition to Osaka Ishin. He was strongly supported by his uncle, Upper House member Takuji Yanagimoto, and the LDP faction of Wakayama-based LDP General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai, to which he belongs. Other LDP heavyweights, including policy chief Tomomi Inada, who has been touted as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s favored successor, also came to Osaka to stump on his behalf.

But Yanagimoto lost by almost 200,000 votes out of the more than 1 million cast. LDP officials, especially Nikai, who tried to help Yanagimoto by announcing his support for a vague public works project that would help ensure the nation’s first commercial high-speed maglev line gets extended to Osaka.

“We humbly accept the losses, and will analyze the reasons for them,” said Toshimitsu Motegi, an LDP Upper House member and the party’s election committee chief.

Yet while the LDP got trounced, the news was not necessarily bad for Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who have grown close to Hashimoto and Matsui and see them as allies in their efforts to revise the Constitution and inject conservative, and often revisionist, views of history into the education system.

Hashimoto himself told voters the LDP’s Osaka candidates are very different from Abe.

“The LDP of Shinzo Abe and the LDP’s Osaka chapter are chalk and cheese. It’s Abe’s LDP that has the power to get things done,” he told voters last week while stumping for Yoshimura.

Matsui said Sunday night the victories would help attract candidates to the national Osaka Ishin no Kai party  formed last month, which now has 19 Diet members. The overwhelming wins, the good rapport shared by Hashimoto, Matsui and Abe, and the weakened positions of the other parties may well swell its ranks after the Upper House elections.

That has LDP ally Komeito concerned. Sensing Yanagimoto and Kurihara were vulnerable, and worried about facing off against Osaka Ishin challengers in the Upper House election, Komeito’s leaders struck a conciliatory tone Sunday night.

“We hope the new Osaka governor and mayor will exercise leadership and move from a position of confrontation to integration (with other parties),” said Tetsuo Saito, who chairs Komeito’s election committee.

As for Hashimoto, he was noticeably absent Sunday night. He has said his political career is over, but few believe him. Once his term ends next month, he’ll serve as legal policy adviser to Osaka Ishin no Kai, a position that allows him to play a powerful role behind the scenes.

On the other hand, the lure of the spotlight he might enjoy as a Diet member, or less likely, holding a post in an Abe Cabinet without being a Diet member, may prove hard to resist.

But the aforementioned legal and financial constraints, as well as worries about having allies in Tokyo — especially if his party struggles next summer and Abe and Suga are replaced by those less enamored with him — reportedly make Hashimoto hesitant about running for national office.

Hashimoto’s decision about his political future might also depend on whether Sunday’s victories lead to the Ishin movement spreading beyond Osaka’s borders. As the party admits, having Osaka in the name hampers its ability to recruit nationwide.

However, in neighboring Kyoto, the Kyoto Ishin no Kai has 11 members, including two in the Diet and four in the 67-seat municipal assembly. Kyoto Ishin has hinted it wants to challenge Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa in February. But Matsui was cautious about offering support.

“We’ll make a decision on other local elections after discussing things with our friends in those prefectures,” he said.