Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto accepted seven lawmakers for his new national party after they embraced his promises to shake up Japan’s governing structure, promote free trade and push a review of the pacifist Constitution.
The new party, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan reforming party), needed at least five lawmakers to be legally recognized at the national level. Its establishment is expected to be officially declared at a fundraiser on Sept. 12 attended by the seven Diet members.
Nippon Ishin no Kai is being formed at a time when support ratings remain dismal for both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which were once expected to establish a two-party system in Japan.
The seven lawmakers announced their intention to join Nippon Ishin no Kai on Sept. 10. But Hashimoto earlier held an open debate in Osaka between them and his regional party, Osaka Ishin no Kai, to ensure they supported his grandiose proposals, specifically Ishin Hassaku, the eight-point plan that Nippon Ishin no Kai will use in its campaign platform.
“Our philosophy is almost identical (with that of Nippon Ishin no Kai),” Lower House member Yorihisa Matsuno, a former deputy chief Cabinet secretary who will leave the DPJ soon to join the new party, said after the five-hour debate on Sept. 9.
The other lawmakers accepted from the DPJ are Lower House member Takashi Ishizeki and Upper House member Masashi Mito.
Lower House member Kenta Matsunami is expected to leave the LDP for Nippon Ishin no Kai, while the remaining lawmakers joining Hashimoto’s team are all Upper House members from Your Party: Hiroshi Ueno, Shinji Oguma and Fumiki Sakurauchi.
The new party has gained attention among voters as a possible alternative to the DPJ and the LDP in the next Lower House election, which must be held before autumn next year.
With policy debate repeatedly bogged down by bickering in the Diet and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Hashimoto has stated that his goal is to overturn the nation’s governing structure of centralized authority that has been in place since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).
Some of his proposals under this category are a direct election of the prime minister by the public, rather than a vote by lawmakers, further empowering the Lower House by possibly abolishing the Upper House, and converting the consumption tax into a local tax revenue source.
Hashimoto said his group was forced to go to the national level to effect change.
“Even if a local government begins an endeavor to achieve something on its own, it has been blocked by (Diet members in) Nagatacho and (bureaucrats in) Kasumigaseki,” he said.
Regarding fiscal, financial and political reforms, Nippon Ishin no Kai will call for halving the number of the Lower House members to 240, slashing the annual salaries of the Diet members and other expenses by 30 percent, cutting subsidies to political parties by 30 percent, and preventing a revival of wasteful public works projects.
To promote economic growth and create jobs, the party will push for Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, FTAs with more countries, and having the nation take the global lead in building a framework to reduce reliance on nuclear power generation.
Hashimoto said he wants Japan to be independent of nuclear power by 2030.
On foreign and security policies, Nippon Ishin no Kai envisages a road map to ease Okinawa Prefecture’s burden as host of the majority of U.S. military installations by relocating bases to other areas of Japan. It also seeks to enhance Japan’s ties with Australia and South Korea.
In addition, the party advocates a referendum on war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution and allowing proposals for constitutional revisions with the approval of half—not the current two-thirds—of all members of the two Diet chambers.
Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura, a former LDP Lower House member, and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a former DPJ member in the Lower House, attended the Sept. 9 debate, as did other heads and former leaders of local governments.
Osaka Ishin no Kai’s entry in the national arena comes two and half years after the local party was established.
Starting this week, the party will solicit applications from the public for candidacies in the next Lower House election.
Hashimoto is pushing a strategy to become a third force against the DPJ and LDP, rather than play a complementary role, and Nippon Ishin no Kai’s stated goal is winning a majority of the seats in the Lower House election.
However, the mayor indicated that cooperation with other parties would be needed to push through his reforms, and he has formed strong ties with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is expected to try to recapture the presidency of the LDP.
“What I mean by a majority is strength that will enable us to achieve our policy goals by working together with other parties after the election,” said Hashimoto, who has said that he himself will not enter the Lower House election. He was elected Osaka mayor in November.
Even if Nippon Ishin no Kai cannot capture more than half of the seats in the Lower House, it will likely be a driving force in political realignment and policy discussions if the DPJ and LDP both fail to win a majority in the election.
Hashimoto also said his party will cooperate with opposition party New Komeito in the Lower House election by not fielding candidates in nine single-member districts where New Komeito candidates are strong.
The move is intended to secure support from New Komeito members in the Osaka municipal assembly for Hashimoto’s pet project of creating a new Osaka metropolitan government.
However, Hashimoto denied that Nippon Ishin no Kai plans to form an alliance with New Komeito after the Lower House election.
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