National / Politics | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

Local, national agendas shade parties' prospects in expected snap poll

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

As Japan gears up for an anticipated snap election at the end of October, Kansai politicians and parties are staking out their positions on issues of national interest but with their eyes very much on local political needs.

For the Osaka-centered Nippon Ishin no Kai, technically an opposition party but very close to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and their allies in the Liberal Democratic Party, an uneasy alliance with Komeito at the local level means the party is limited in the number of candidates it can field for single-seat districts.

Nippon Ishin has 15 seats in the Lower House, and its leaders have set an election goal of at least 21, which will be enough to introduce their own bills.

Komeito has four Lower House district seats within Osaka. Nippon Ishin’s leaders have said they will not field candidates against Komeito for the simple reason that Nippon Ishin’s Osaka-based group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), still needs Komeito’s cooperation to form a majority in the municipal and prefectural assemblies.

Komeito also holds the key as to whether Osaka Ishin will succeed in merging the municipal and prefectural governments. Osaka Ishin, which strongly supports the idea and has made it a core goal, has battled the Osaka chapters of Komeito and the Liberal Democratic Party for years on the issue.

A 2015 referendum on an earlier merger plan was narrowly defeated, partially because many in Komeito’s substantial base of Osaka supporters were opposed. Osaka Ishin is working with the other parties on a new plan, and aims to put it to another referendum next year. Two referendum failures, however, would inflict permanent damage on the party.

“I want to cooperate with Komeito in drawing up a plan for the merger, so there’s no need to argue with them,” Nippon Ishin leader and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui told reporters last week in announcing the party’s decision to not challenge Komeito if a snap election is called.

But regardless of local politics, the national party, Nippon Ishin, remains committed to backing the LDP on an issue likely to be draw heavy coverage in any election: constitutional revision.

Earlier this month, at a Nippon Ishin meeting in Osaka, members gathered to discuss proposals for amending the Constitution — in particular pacifist Article 9.

Nippon Ishin has generally supported Abe’s quest to revise the Constitution and formalize the role of the Self-Defense Forces. But many members have also expressed concern that Abe’s favored draft is too vague and does not properly define the limits of military power.

“Unless a balance is struck between what’s necessary for military power and what’s permissible, there’s no answer to the issue of Article 9. This is not something the LDP has talked about,” Matsui told reporters after the meeting.

He also confirmed that Toru Hashimoto, co-founder of the Osaka and Nippon Ishin movements, will not be involved with any upcoming elections, and that he will continue to remain a private citizen.

For Osaka as a whole, two local issues requiring Diet debate and national support over the coming months will be of interest to voters. These include a new set of laws on running and managing integrated resort casinos. Osaka still hopes to receive one of the nation’s first resort licenses once the government approves the new system.

The other issue will be increased national support, in the form of funding, for Osaka if it is selected to host the 2025 World Expo. The winner will be announced in Paris in November 2018.

If the election picture in Osaka is clouded by the complicated relationships and rivalries between Nippon Ishin and the established parties, the LDP appears to have a lock on one other prefecture where national policy is of strong local interest.

In Fukui, a snap election offers former defense minister and close Abe ally Tomomi Inada a chance to redeem herself after a string of scandals and gaffes earlier this year led to her ouster from the Cabinet last month.

Locally, though, Inada is widely credited for using her influence to help secure funding so the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line will be ready to connect Kanazawa and Tsugura, Fukui Prefecture, by 2022, and possibly begin service from her electoral district in the city of Fukui before the 2020 Olympics.

That means Fukui city residents would have a direct route to Tokyo via Kanazawa and Nagano.

She is unlikely to face a serious challenger, but last week, at a meeting of supporters in the city of Fukui, Inada was out meeting voters and in campaign mode, attempting to strike a populist appeal.

“I’ll return to basic politics and work hard as a Fukui mama,” Inada said.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.