Ishihara's return to national politics could force election, galvanize conservatives

October 26, 2012


The ever-provocative Shintaro Ishihara has laid the groundwork for a battle with the potential to turn the entire political world upside down.

Ishihara’s resignation as Tokyo governor announced Oct. 25 could force Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to call an early Lower House election, further tear apart the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and threaten the resurgence of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

The new conservative party that Ishihara plans to form could also rally other nationalist forces and provide the impetus for the sputtering Japan Restoration Party to achieve its goal of wielding influence in Diet affairs.

The 80-year-old Ishihara is stepping down in the middle of his fourth term as governor to jump-start the process leading toward a Lower House election, according to a close aide.

“He wants to provoke (a fight) when the dissolution of the Lower House is being put off,” the aide said.

The LDP and smaller opposition party New Komeito, sensing weakness in the DPJ, have repeatedly demanded that Noda live up to his promise in August to dissolve the Lower House “in the near future.” On Oct. 19, Noda told leaders of the two parties that he would not commit to dissolving the Diet chamber by the end of the year.

“Currently, a no-confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet will not pass,” Ishihara’s aide said. “But when Ishihara calls on (like-minded politicians) to join his party and fight together, lawmakers who have given up on the DPJ will abandon the party.”

If five more DPJ lawmakers defect, the party will lose its majority in the Lower House, paving the way for the passage of a no-confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet. That would force Noda to dissolve the Lower House or the Cabinet to resign en masse.

When asked about the potential impact of Ishihara’s new party, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura only said, “We have been told that the DPJ is making efforts to solidify the foundations of the government.”

But an aide to Noda said, “The DPJ will probably lose more lawmakers, and a no-confidence motion may pass.”

Ishihara, a former LDP member of both chambers of the Diet, mentioned other enemies he plans to fight in his return to the national stage following his 13-plus years as Tokyo governor.

“After all, I have some unfinished business (in national politics),” he told a news conference on Oct. 25.

Ishihara indicated he lost interest in local politics after many of his initiatives were blocked by officials in the bureaucrat center of Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district.

“On most administrative issues in which the central government is involved, I had very difficult times facing its resistance,” he said.

The outspoken politician insisted that power must be taken from these mandarins, saying the very survival of Japan is at stake.

“We must change a rigid system in which central government bureaucrats control Japan,” he said. “Unless we put up a fight against the bureaucrats, Japan will be choked to death after sinking, as it were, into an ant lion’s pit.”

Ishihara has long been known for his fiery statements, including comments that have offended Japan’s neighbors, women and foreign residents in Japan.

He also recently proved a thorn in the central government’s side.

Ishihara stunned the government in April when he announced the Tokyo metropolitan government’s plans to buy three of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea from private ownership.

The Noda administration moved ahead and nationalized the islands in September, fearing ownership by the rightist governor would infuriate China, which also claims the isles. Nonetheless, Noda’s move led to anti-Japan protests across China and an ongoing standoff with Beijing.

Ishihara’s return to the national stage will start off small, with his new party being formed from the Sunrise Party of Japan, a conservative party formed in 2010 with his backing.

Takeo Hiranuma, leader of the Sunrise Party of Japan, said Oct. 25 he will disband the party, and its five Diet members will join Ishihara’s party in early November.

One key for Ishihara is whether he can form an alliance with the Japan Restoration Party, led by popular Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

“I intend to work with Hashimoto,” Ishihara said. “We have coordinated our policies to a great extent.”

The Japan Restoration Party, founded on Sept. 28, was seen as a rising star in national politics. But it is now struggling to garner public support.

In an Asahi Shimbun poll conducted on Oct. 20-21, the party’s support rate was just 2 percent, far behind 11 percent for the unpopular DPJ.

The Japan Restoration Party was launched by Osaka Ishin no Kai, a local political party based in Osaka. It does not have a strong support base in eastern Japan.

However, a senior official of the Japan Restoration Party expects an alliance with Ishihara will expand the party’s support in the next Lower House election.

“We have got a strong partner in Ishihara,” the official said. “We will make an offensive into national politics on both eastern and western fronts.”

According to sources, Ishihara told Hashimoto about his plans to seek a Lower House seat when the two met at a hotel in Osaka on April 4.

Hashimoto also met Ishihara in Tokyo on Oct. 13 and Oct. 21 for apparent discussions on an alliance.

On Oct. 25, Hashimoto welcomed Ishihara’s decision to form his own party.

“That is how he is,” the Osaka mayor said. “He is pulling off one great game for a finish.”

But Hashimoto said he will carefully decide which party he will seek as a partner.

“Our identity lies in agreement on policies and philosophy,” he said. “I have repeatedly told (Ishihara) that we cannot compromise on that aspect.”

The Japan Restoration Party has agreed in principle to work together with Your Party, a small opposition party, in the Lower House election.

It will also cooperate with New Komeito in some constituencies.

The LDP hopes to regain power in the next Lower House election under the leadership of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the party’s new president who has repeatedly expressed his hawkish views. The Asahi Shimbun survey on Oct. 20-21 showed the LDP with a support rate of 26 percent, surging ahead of the DPJ.

When asked about the impact of Ishihara’s new party, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said, “We should not comment lightly.”

But a senior party official said the LDP could end up in a fierce contest for conservative votes against an Ishihara-Hashimoto coalition.

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Shintaro Ishihara holds his letter of resignation at a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 25. (Jun Ueda)

Shintaro Ishihara holds his letter of resignation at a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 25. (Jun Ueda)

  • Shintaro Ishihara holds his letter of resignation at a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 25. (Jun Ueda)

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