OSAKA – The rise and — so far — fall in popularity of Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of Hope) comes as no surprise in Osaka, where her ability to govern effectively, as opposed to deal with the media, has long been in doubt.
Like former Osaka Mayor and Nippon Ishin no Kai co-founder Toru Hashimoto, Koike, an ex-television announcer, knows how to speak to the camera. Unlike the bombastic Hashimoto, Koike’s measured tone made her conservative and right-wing social leanings and associations seem less threatening to some viewers. Her speech often includes English buzzwords that can sound pretentious, unlike Hashimoto, who mostly avoided English jargon in arguing his points, like the lawyer that he is.
But the leaders’ different rhetorical styles should not hide the fact that, on national security, diplomacy, and constitutional revision, there is virtually no difference between Kibo no To and Nippon Ishin. Both parties are also on the same page as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on most issues. Although if Abe wants Nippon Ishin to support constitutional revision, he is going to have to do more to convince the party that any Diet draft would be approved in a national referendum.
So regardless of what happens in the Oct. 22 election, most pundits expect that, post-election, Kibo no To will essentially function as the “Tokyo faction” to the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc and Nippon Ishin will continue to behave like its “Osaka faction,” agreeing with the LDP on major issues.
This is not to say Nippon Ishin and Kibo no To will be best friends in the Diet. Many in Osaka have serious doubts that Koike or Kibo no To will pressure either the ruling coalition or the central government bureaucracy for further regionalization of the kind Nippon Ishin wants. With the Tokyo Olympics less than three years away, there are suspicions in Osaka that Kibo no To will pursue an “Only Tokyo” policy that favors those in the capital rather than one that supports the general goals that Koike, Osaka Gov. and Nippon co-leader Ichiro Matsui, and Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura announced last month.
Yet if Osaka is worried about Koike and Kibo no To being too Tokyo-centric, others worry that handing power to Nippon Ishin and Kibo no To will mean losing their political future to voters in hyper-urban areas who know nothing of, and care nothing for, issues affecting the Japan outside Tokyo and Osaka and Nagoya.
“It’s inevitable to have concerns that, with the three regions coming together, city people will grab power and rural areas will be cast aside,” Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido said after Koike, Matsui and Omura announced their basic agreement to not field candidates directly against each other. Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake criticized the deal by saying it’s the provinces that are supporting Japan. Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi said there’s no reason for local governments to consist only of cities.
Finally, Wakayama Gov. Yoshinobu Nisaka, who views neighboring Osaka as an economic rival, criticized the deal, which fell apart last week when Omura changed his mind and refused to endorse Kibo no To, as selfish.
“The (three governors’) agreement is about putting big cities first. If all you do is greedily think of yourself, Japan as a whole won’t be helped,” he said.
With about 30 million people, Osaka, Tokyo and Aichi prefectures have nearly a quarter of Japan’s population and share many of the same social and economic values, which are often at odds with those living elsewhere. But so far, there is no sign Koike and her party are trusted enough outside Tokyo, or that Matsui and his party are trusted enough outside Osaka, to realize a true, urban-based populist revolt that takes over the Diet and alters Japanese society for decades to come.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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