September 9, 2012 10:06 am

Osaka mayor launches political party

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Toru Hashimoto, the outspoken mayor of Osaka, has launched a new party, threatening to roil Japan’s political landscape in the run-up to a general election expected later this year.

Nihon Ishin no Kai, or the “Japan Restoration Association” – is to campaign on a platform of shrinking the country’s bureaucracy and is aiming to capture a significant share of the 480 seats in the important lower chamber of parliament.

The launch caps a rapid rise for the 43-year-old lawyer and former TV personality, who stunned both mainstream parties last November by winning the mayoral election in the western port city of Osaka. He has signalled his intention to form a party for weeks.

Even if it falls well short of an outright majority, Nihon Ishin no Kai is expected to play an important role in the formation of Japan’s next government. A recent poll by Fuji News Network put a Hashimoto party ahead of both the leading opposition Liberal Democratic party and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

In his short period in office, Mr Hashimoto has won acclaim for pushing for more streamlined administrative structures across the country.

Under a bill passed by Japan’s parliament last week, Osaka and nine other cities with a population of 2m will be able to establish special administrative wards, as in Tokyo.

Mr Hashimoto has said that such moves, unifying city and prefectural governments, should cut costs, remove bureaucracy and promote more vibrant industrial policy in an economy that has shrunk in three of the past four years.

“We saw the passage of the new Osaka bill, but that’s not enough,” Mr Hashimoto told a press conference on Saturday. “We will insert the surgical knife of reform into the state’s governing structure to make things the way they should be.”

On Sunday, at least half a dozen members of Japan’s parliament attended an open forum held by Mr Hashimoto’s new party to debate campaign pledges such as halving the number of seats in the lower house, and joining talks on a multilateral trans-Pacific free trade accord.

Under Japanese law, the founding of a new political party requires the backing of at least five incumbent Diet members.

Mr Hashimoto has said he wants to lead the party but will remain mayor of Osaka, rather than putting himself forward in the lower-house election.

Political bickering over the timing of the election has already led to gridlock over the Y38tn ($486bn) of bond issuance necessary to finance Japan’s budget deficit for the year to March.

The government says it has enough money to last until the end of November without an agreement on a bill to rubber-stamp the fundraising. However, by freezing non-essential spending while asking local governments to rely on bank loans and their own reserves, it risks doing further damage to Japan’s flagging economy.

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