The unfolding political tectonic shifts in Japan that I described in a previous post has become more interesting. Apparently, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s goals are no longer limited to regionalist devolution. It appears that what he really wants– and this is not really a surprise to observers who have been closely following the flamboyant mayor– is a new Japanese revolution, perhaps one as significant as the Meiji Restoration itself.
Last week, Hashimoto’s political party, the Osaka Restoration Association (Osaka Isshin no Kai), promulgated a list of goals that it said it would pursue should it enter national politics. These goals include the removal of pension for rich retirees; the abolition of grants from Tokyo to local governments and its replacement with direct local government taxation; the abolition of the House of Councillors; and, as if these weren’t bold enough, the direct election of the Prime Minister. In short, Hashimoto’s clique is calling for a shift from a unitary, bi-cameral parliamentary configuration to a quasi-federal, unicameral quasi-presidential form of government.
These bold platforms have gained the support of the leaders of the regionalist movement like Aichi Governor Hideaki Omura and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, as well as the former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) heavyweight and current Minna no To (Everyone’s Party) chieftain Yoshimi Watanabe. Watanabe’s support, which I find a bit surprising, seems like a desperate ploy to use Hashimoto’s energy to reinvigorate his heretofore marginalized micro-party. I wonder if he realizes that Hashimoto’s group is in fact a long-term threat to the Minna no To.
It is interesting to hear what Ichiro Ozawa, the erstwhile shadow shogun and Democratic Party (DPJ) kingpin, has to say about Hashimoto’s manifesto. Ozawa, who has recently made himself busy criticizing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s tax increase proposals, will probably be emboldened by last Friday’s court decision to disregard the only evidence in his pending corruption case and go all out against the Prime Minister and his anti-Ozawa handlers. Recently, Ozawa has been sending feelers to Hashimoto’s camp. Apparently, the power-broker sees Hashimoto as a hedge in his apparently brewing plot to take on Prime Minister Noda.
Of course, there are some differences between Hashimoto’s goals and Ozawa’s vision– Ozawa is on the left in terms of social spending while Hashimoto is quite libertarian, for instance; but the two share the opinion that Japan needs to repudiate the bureaucrats and the current political establishments, and to pursue a more independent foreign policy. These common grounds could be enough for Ozawa, a notoriously savvy negotiator, to strike an alliance of convenience with the popular mayor. And indeed, for Ozawa– and Watanabe for that matter– the incentive to win Hashimoto over is quite high: Tuesday’s poll show that a resounding 53% of the Japanese electorate want neither the DPJ nor the LDP but a third force to form the next government.
The problem with Hashimoto, however, is that his goals are so radical they would need constitutional revisions, which in turn would require two-thirds nod from both houses of the Diet and, ultimately, the public’s approval in a plebiscite. All these require enormous political capital, and it’s even unclear if Hashimoto can maintain his current snowball, considering how short the Japanese public’s political attention span is. Unless Hashimoto is merely raising the stakes so he could strategically negotiate to the middle– a strategy that is not without high risks– it’s quite easy to dismiss Isshin no Kai’s platforms at this point as, for the lack of a better term, delusional.
But one can never really tell. As I’ve said last week, these are interesting times for Japan.