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Is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government about to adopt Osaka’s approach to local government reform, leading to an Osaka-centric political party expanding its influence to the nation’s capital?

The very thought might make proud Tokyoites shudder (and proud Osakans smirk or shake their heads in wonder). But comments by Tokyo’s new governor, Yuriko Koike, herself from the Kansai region, and senior Osaka Ishin no Kai officials over the past few weeks have created intense speculation that cooperation between her and Osaka Ishin is a real possibility.

Koike’s promises of reform and cost-cutting, and her confrontation with Tokyo assembly members backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, which refused to support her candidacy, echo the situation in Osaka in 2008, when then-Gov. Toru Hashimoto challenged the establishment, took control and forced through numerous cost-cutting measures and bureaucratic reforms that were staunchly opposed by the local chapter of the LDP.

Hashimoto’s efforts led his allies among reform-minded LDP members to quit and form their own local political party, which eventually won a plurality, but not a majority, of seats in the Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies. Hashimoto and his friends then formed the national party now known as Osaka Ishin no Kai.

On July 31, following Koike’s victory, Osaka Ishin Secretary-General Nobuyuki Baba told the media that if Koike is really serious about undertaking major reforms in Tokyo’s government, his party would be interested in cooperating with her in next year’s assembly election if she needs friendly candidates.

A few days later, Koike said that the reform policies of Osaka Ishin mirrored her own ideas for Tokyo, and that she hoped to learn from the various reforms the prefecture and the city of Osaka enacted under Hashimoto, who served as governor and then mayor.

Koike has already reached out to friends of Osaka Ishin. During last month’s race for Tokyo governor, she received the support of Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who heads Genzei Nippon, a Nagoya-based political group that favors low taxes. Kawamura has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Osaka Ishin’s leadership over the years, but is generally seen as a political ally and an ideological soulmate.

In addition, the Tokyo governor has already appointed to her administration someone who is close to Hashimoto and Ishin. Keio University professor Shinichi Ueyama, an expert on government reform, was called “Hashimoto’s brain” for his various ideas how to cut costs and trim the bureaucracy.

For Osaka Ishin, a possible political tie-up with Koike, especially if it leads to forming her own political party that fields candidates in next year’s assembly election, offers great risks and great rewards.

Following the Upper House election last month, Osaka Ishin increased its seat total to 12. But it has failed to make much headway outside Osaka, partially due to its name, which is expected be changed to Nippon Ishin no Kai on Tuesday.

On the other hand, the risk for Osaka Ishin is that it ends up backing Koike, only to see her efforts go down in defeat at the hands of a furious LDP and create problems between senior LDP figures and the party. Osaka Ishin co-founder and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who has especially good relations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has been more cautious in his statements about Koike.

“It’s easy to talk about reform, but once you begin, you find all sorts of opposition. We are extremely interested in how such opposition is handled, and we’ll be watching carefully,” Matsui said earlier this month when asked about how he viewed Koike’s victory.

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