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Osaka mayor retires
to stir up once again
Japanese politics

Osaka, 3 October 2015: Ahead of November’s Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections, the city’s outgoing mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his new regional political party for when he steps down after just one term of office. The new party, Osaka Ishin no Kai, will campaign for more autonomy for central Japan’s Kansai region and ultimately a unified Osaka Metropolis, despite voters’ narrow rejection of the proposal in a city-wide referendum this May. It is also understood that the colourful and often controversial mayor may seek national office and is already being touted by his ally Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the likely leader of any national campaign to spearhead revision of Japan’s post-war constitution.

Announcing his latest new political party on 1 October, Hashimoto and the party’s co-leader Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui, who will seek re-election in November, said that it would hold its first convention on 24 October, at which they hope to announce at least 20 members of Japan’s national Diet (parliament) as having joined the group. Hashimoto and Matsui’s former party, the Japan Innovation Party, is now split between Osaka and Tokyo camps, with some suggestion that its remaining members could join with other Japanese opposition parties ahead of next summer’s upper house elections. Hashimoto, who along with Matsui is close to PM Abe and his right-leaning Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is vehemently opposed to cooperating with centre-left parties aligned to Japan’s trade unions, which he views as vested interests opposed to his reform agenda. Hashimoto has also lashed out at Japan’s new and revived youth and student movement opposed to the LDP’s signature ‘war bills’, which permit the country’s military engagement overseas.

Hashimoto has signalled that he is ready to support the LDP administration in its drive to revise Japan’s constitution and reform its education system along more ‘patriotic’ lines. The new party’s goals also include the direct election of Japan’s PM, abolition of the upper house of parliament and increased use of renewable energy. But the party’s most immediate concern is the retention of the Osaka mayoralty and governorships, for which national lawmaker Hirofumi Yoshimura will stand as Hashimoto’s hopeful successor as mayor. He will face off against Osaka city councilman Akira Yanagimoto of the LDP, who led the recent referendum campaign against Hashimoto’s plans to reorganise Osaka city and prefecture into a single metropolis. Having entered Osaka city politics as a strikingly and comparatively youthful, engaging and reform-minded figure, Hashimoto leaves City Hall being likened by one newspaper as Japan’s answer to Donald Trump (or perhaps the UK’s Nigel Farage), irritable, unpredictable and wholly uncredible.

Timeline – Toru Hashimoto
January 2008 – Toru Hashimoto elected Governor of Osaka Prefecture with support of LDP – in 2009 is briefly touted, largely by himself, as potential successor to Japan’s beleaguered LDP PM Taro Aso ahead of its election loss that year

April 2010 – founds own Osaka Restoration Association with the aim of unifying Osaka City and Prefectural governments

October 2011 – announces intention to resign as Osaka Governor in order to contest Osaka mayoralty, defeating incumbent Kunio Hiramatsu

September 2012 – launches Japan Restoration Party (JRP) with seven defecting lawmakers hoping to benefit from the mayor’s popular public image and charisma

November 2012 – abruptly merges the JRP with Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara’s ultra-nationalist Sunrise Party

December 2012 – in first national elections contested the JRP wins 54 seats in the national Diet, becoming Japan’s second largest opposition party (the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won just 57 having lost the election to Abe’s returning LDP)

January 2013 – Hashimoto and Ishihara become joint leaders of the JRP and offer to support the new LDP administration on constitutional revision

May 2013 – Hashimoto attracts international criticism by asserting that WW2 sex slavery (so-called “comfort women”) was “necessary” for Japanese soldiers

July 2013 – JRP performs less well in that year’s upper house elections, obtaining only nine seats (compared to the DPJ’s 59)

May 2014 – following a series of public spats, Hashimoto and Ishihara agree to split the JRP, with 38 of 60 JRP legislators exiting with Hashimoto, while the octogenarian Ishihara establishes the so-called Party for Future Generations  

September 2014 – Hashimoto’s vestigial JRP merges with Kenji Eda’s smallish Unity Party (created from a split in the now defunct reformist Your Party) as the Japan Innovation Party (JIP), now with 52 lower house members regains status as Japan’s second-largest opposition party

December 2014 – JRP largely obtains similar showing as in 2012 in Japan’s snap election, with 41 seats (net loss of one). The Party for Future Generations is all but wiped out, reduced to two seats – Ishihara announces political retirement, but reconciles with Hashimoto by praising his oratory as ranking with “Hitler in his youth” (conceding the older Hitler made some “stupid mistakes”)

May 2015 – Osaka unification referendum held, Hashimoto narrowly defeated by ‘no’ voters and announces his ‘retirement’ from politics. Kenji Eda resigns as parliamentary leader of the JIP and is replaced by former DPJ politician Yorihisa Matsuno

August 2015 – amid largely staged public spats with leader Matsuno, Hashimoto resigns from his own JIP and announces intention to create a new Osaka-based national political party

October 2015 – Hashimoto creates latest political party alongside Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui and 20 national lawmakers, ahead of standing down in November’s mayoral elections