OSAKA – A popular, media-savvy figure originally from the Kansai region wins the governorship by running as a reformer, then forming a political party to take on the Liberal Democratic Party in the local assembly election. Upon winning a plurality of votes, the party teams up with Komeito to form a majority, even as its leaders hope to build a nationwide movement.
Sound familiar? With her Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First) party winning 55 seats in Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who is originally from Hyogo Prefecture, took a page out of the playbook of former Osaka governor and mayor — and co-founder of the Nippon Ishin movement — Toru Hashimoto.
Indeed, Tomin First and Nippon Ishin, and its Osaka political group Osaka Ishin no Kai, seem alike in several fundamental ways.
Like Osaka Ishin in the Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies, Tomin First is cooperating with Komeito, which won 23 seats on Sunday, to form a majority. On major policy issues, both parties consist of those who advocate corporate-friendly, neoliberalist economic policies. They often get advice from the same people.
“The policies of Tomin First and the Ishin movement are very similar,” said Tokyo-based freelance journalist Hiroo Ogawa, who writes on Tokyo politics. “Furthermore, behind both groups are like-minded people. For example, Keio University professor Shinichi Ueyama (an expert on government reform) was a key adviser to Hashimoto and Osaka Ishin, and has also advised Koike and Tomin First.”
“On issues like constitutional revision, Tomin First and Osaka Ishin are basically of the same position as the LDP,” said Osaka-based freelance writer and author Yuji Yoshitomi, an expert on local politics.
Another similarity is that both parties began with a small group of disgruntled LDP members forming a party whose winners are, for the most part, political novices. Ogawa noted that the members of Tomin First have virtually no experience in politics, although there are some who had been staff members of LDP politicians.
There are also important differences between the two parties.
“Osaka Ishin’s goal was clearly only one — the ‘One Osaka’ plan, the push to merge the city and the prefecture,” Yoshitomi said. “But in the case of Tomin First, they had to deal with several issues and controversies, including the relocation of the Tsukiji fish market to Toyosu, the Tokyo Olympics, and voter complaints about the closed nature of the assembly — very specific issues.”
Another difference is the parties’ basic relationships with the LDP.
Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, who also serves as Ishin’s leader and a top leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, has a good relationship with the LDP, but the Osaka chapter of the LDP has bad relations with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Ogawa said.
“On the other hand, while the relationship between Koike and Abe isn’t all that bad, the Tokyo Assembly LDP chapter has good relations with Abe as well,” Ogawa added.
Key to Tomin First’s success will be its partner Komeito, which finds itself able to make or break majorities in both the Tokyo and Osaka local assemblies. Yoshitomi and Ogawa noted that, like Osaka Ishin, Komeito’s veterans in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly will work closely with the inexperienced Tomin First assembly members, giving Komeito huge influence over the direction of the assembly.
Koike resigned as Tomin First head the day after the election, saying she wants to concentrate on being governor. While Ogawa said Tomin First might serve as an example for other, similar local parties that could become a national political party, the experience of Nippon Ishin, which has failed to generate support beyond its Osaka base, makes that problematic. Sunday’s vote, Ogawa and Yoshitomi said, was more generally anti-LDP than specifically pro-Koike or pro-Tomin First.
“Although it was higher than last time, the voter turnout rate was only 51 percent. If it had been around 60 percent, then you could say Tomin First won handily,” Ogawa said. “But a 51 percent turnout rate, where people who had previously voted for the LDP or even the Democratic Party voted for Tomin First, is more of an anti-LDP than a pro-Tomin First, or pro-Yuriko Koike vote.”
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