Yoichi Masuzoe, who in 2010 consistently ranked as a contender for prime minister in opinion polls, has dropped off the political radar.
The 63-year-old former welfare minister and head of the tiny New Renaissance Party seems to have been sidestepped despite moves by other small parties to form alliances to reshape the nation’s political landscape ahead of a Lower House election expected to be held as early as this summer.
Masuzoe quit the Liberal Democratic Party in 2010, a year after it lost its decades-long grip on power following the 2009 Lower House election that put the Democratic Party of Japan in charge.
He chose to trigger political realignment by creating a new party rather than staying in the LDP and battling Sadakazu Tanigaki for the leadership.
But the New Renaissance Party consists of only Masuzoe and Hiroyuki Arai, his peer in the Upper House and an LDP turncoat.
Masuzoe is often overshadowed by Yoshimi Watanabe, head of Your Party and his former LDP colleague, who is emerging as a key figure in the political realignment.
Your Party is strengthening its alliance with Osaka Ishin no Kai, a reform-oriented party led by Toru Hashimoto, who won the Osaka mayoral election late last year. Hashimoto's confrontational stance and moves for more local autonomy have made him hugely popular.
Masuzoe, a former associate professor of political science and history at the University of Tokyo, published a book on Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary and a founding father of modern China, in October.
Although there was speculation that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda would give him a position in his reshuffled Cabinet earlier this month, Masuzoe was passed over.
Despite his exposure to the public through TV programs and news conferences, his political fortunes have not improved.
On Jan. 18, Takeo Hiranuma, leader of the Sunrise Party of Japan, met with Masuzoe in the Diet to dissolve their parliamentary group in the Upper House.
But he apparently was not swayed by the moves toward political realignment, one of which involves Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara joining Hiranuma and other former LDP bigwigs to establish a new party.
“I created the New Renaissance Party to reorganize the political world,” Masuzoe said in a Fuji Television Network Inc. program on Jan. 29. “Any move to form a party headed by Ishihara is very welcome. But what matters most are policies. It is not a right thing for a party to join with others merely for the sake of wining an election when their policies are incompatible.”
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