One of the big winners of the Oct. 31 Lower House election was the Osaka-based Nippon Ishin no Kai, which tripled the number of seats it occupies in parliament, thus making it the second biggest opposition force after the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

In interviews following the poll, Nippon Ishin leader Ichiro Matsui, who is also the mayor of Osaka, said the party would stand up to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is notable because many had thought it might join the ruling coalition owing to its similar political philosophy. In the past, Nippon Ishin candidates have received support from the LDP.

Nippon Ishin’s power is concentrated in Osaka, and its goal is to be a true national party, which means it needs to distinguish itself in order to be just that. One of its primary means of doing so is fiscal reform, which it has carried out at a local level. The main setback in that regard has been the party’s failure to turn Osaka city and prefecture into a unified metropolis like Tokyo, which it says would save money by eliminating redundant public functions.

Nippon Ishin wants to expand its cost-cutting mission to the central government, and its immediate target is buntsūhi, or the “correspondence allowance” that every lawmaker receives to help pay for things such as postage and transportation. The existing allowance totals ¥1 million per month, regardless of how many days the recipient works.

One of the new Nippon Ishin lawmakers, Taisuke Ono, wrote on Nov. 12 that he was puzzled by the allowance. Having been elected on Oct. 31, he was a member of parliament for only one day in October, and thus received a salary equivalent to one day’s worth of work. However, he also received the full ¥1 million correspondence allowance. The LDP has said it would work to have the money returned.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, deputy leader of Nippon Ishin, then tweeted that lawmakers didn’t even have to submit receipts showing how they spent the non-taxable allowance. He found the system lacking in “common sense.”

Then, on the Nov. 14 edition of the Fuji TV talk show “Nichiyo Hodo The Prime,” Nippon Ishin member and former Osaka Gov. and Mayor Toru Hashimoto complained that the allowance system was broken and that it must be fixed if the public is to be convinced that government is working for their benefit.

The mainstream media has mostly taken these comments at face value, but some media outlets have reacted derisively, describing the boomerang effect of Nippon Ishin’s statements coming back to haunt it.

A Nov. 14 post on Litera, the media watchdog website, explained how Nippon Ishin has been targeting the allowance since 2014, when Hashimoto led the party.

In 2017, Nippon Ishin drafted a revision of the applicable law to mandate reports of how the allowance is spent, but during that year, according to Asahi Shimbun’s analysis of the reports that lawmakers submit about political funds, of the ¥280 million that Nippon Ishin members did not spend of its correspondence allowance, 64% was “donated” to their political support groups. In fact, eight of the 25 Nippon Ishin lawmakers at the time reported that 80% of the funds in their political support groups came from leftover allowance money.

As Litera noted, funds administered by political support groups are typically spent on things such as dining out on party business and buying tickets to political fundraisers. They are also sometimes “loaned” to the politicians themselves or donated to other political support groups within the same party.

In a Nov. 20 post, Nikkan Gendai Digital reiterated the boomerang metaphor, claiming that Yoshimura didn’t seem to have any issues with receiving the full monthly allowance when he was a lawmaker. Gendai also mentioned Nippon Ishin lawmaker Yasushi Adachi, who has defended his habit of writing his own receipts for the leftover allowance funds he gives to his political group while at the same time supporting the idea that leftover allowances be returned to the Treasury. Hashimoto, who helped establish Nippon Ishin, has also tweeted his objections to “self-receipts,” as the practice is called. Professor Hiroshi Kamiwaki of Kobe Gakuin University told Gendai that donating the allowance to a political support group is basically illegal, though few ever bring it up.

And, in 2019, during a Japan Press Club debate among party leaders about the Upper House election that year, Matsui tried to draw attention to the allowance issue while at the same time scolding the Japan Communist Party for breaking an earlier pledge to address it. Japan Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii immediately replied that the party posts how they spend the allowance on the party’s home page, and that he was surprised Matsui didn’t know that.

Akiko Oishi, who was also newly elected to the Lower House on Oct. 31 under the umbrella of the Reiwa Shinsengumi party, understands the boomerang analogy intimately. She is a former Osaka Prefecture employee who has sometimes clashed publicly with Hashimoto.

According to freelance reporter Hajime Yokota, discussing the matter on the web news program Democracy Times, it was Oishi who first pointed out that Yoshimura, six years ago, delayed his resignation from parliament until the first day of the month just so that he could purportedly claim the full ¥1 million allowance. Yokota also referred to an internet discussion between Hashimoto, Matsui and Yoshimura that took place shortly after Yoshimura’s resignation in which he laughed about the money.

It may seem odd that Nippon Ishin is trying to reform a system that it has used, improperly or not, to its advantage. Perhaps the party doesn’t really think reform is going to happen, even though last week it announced it was planning to co-sponsor a bill that would mandate revealing how the allowance is spent. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

See www.philipbrasor.com for addenda to Media Mix contributions.

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