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Thursday, December 2, 2021

After the fringe party’s victory, Japan’s peace constitution became the focus

Sitting in his shaky Tokyo office, full of the smell of cigarettes and the remnants of previous Chinese restaurant decorations, Ono Daisuke is an unlikely face in the populist wave that subverts Japanese politics.

The 47-year-old former Accenture consultant lost in Tokyo’s governorship race last year, but with the success of the Japanese Innovation Party, he made an amazing comeback. In the general election last week, the Osaka-based regional party shattered all expectations of becoming the country’s third largest political power.

With the number of representatives in the powerful lower house of the National Assembly increasing nearly fourfold to 41 seats, if the government decides to advance the revision of Japan’s peaceful constitution, this once marginalized party can provide the necessary votes for Japan’s ruling bloc .

“This is just our first step” to become a national party, Ono said, he won one of Ising’s first two seats in the capital Tokyo.

“We need to produce the kind of results we achieved in Osaka,” he added, noting that constitutional amendments and regulatory reforms need to be passed to revitalize the stagnant economy.

For a long time, conservatives have sought to amend Japan’s constitution for abandoning war to clarify the legitimacy of the country’s armed forces. But the amendment requires huge political capital and public motivation, which made it impossible for even former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to realize his life ambitions.

Bowen Yoshimura and Daisuke Ono campaign together
Hirofumi Yoshimura campaigned with Taisuke Ono. He helped Ishan win a seat in Tokyo and escape the heart of Osaka © Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO

On the economic front, Ishine hopes to resolve what it says the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has failed to deliver on its promise of radical structural reforms to promote growth and get rid of decades of deflation.

Ishin was founded about ten years ago as a regional organization led by Toru Hashimoto, a charming and sharp-spoken former governor of Osaka, and the closest person in Japan’s history to a Donald Trump-like populist.

Right-leaning parties are widely supported in the country’s second largest city for their success in the privatization of the local subway system and populist policies such as free education and parliamentarian pay cuts.

Hashimoto’s script is inherited by Hirofumi Yoshimura, the 46-year-old deputy director of Yixin, who became a celebrity during his high-profile appearance in the media as the governor of Osaka during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Mr Yoshimura’s popularity was a significant factor in why we were able to become a third force,” said Tsukasa Abe, a 39-year-old Ishin member who was elected for the first time in Tokyo.

In addition to the newly accumulated parliamentary influence, analysts said that the successful election of Yishin has put more policy pressure on the new government of Kishida Fumio.

Ishin supports the Liberal Democratic Party’s push to increase Japan’s role in national security and defense spending in response to threats from China and the need to amend the constitution.

But the party severely criticized the prime minister’s new capitalist vision for realizing wealth redistribution and “enthusiastic reform”. It believes that “painful reforms” are necessary to open up strictly regulated growth markets.

Richard Kaye, portfolio manager of French Asset Management, said: “I think that a party with a new way of thinking has increased its seats, which shows that voters are eager for change and seeking more radical solutions.” Comgest is a veteran investor in Japanese stocks.

“This is a welcome development because it promotes further reforms and deregulation in the country.”

In addition to suppressing the Liberal Democratic Party in Osaka, Yixin also used the public’s disillusionment with the ruling party to collect votes outside of its stronghold in western Japan. It also used suspicion of the main opposition’s poor election strategies to ally with the Japanese Communist Party, despite their ideological differences.

Nevertheless, Waseda University professor Mieko Nakabayashi said that Ishin is facing an uphill battle to become a powerful force in national politics. She said Ishin must figure out how to maintain its unique identity as an opposition force while cooperating with the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito to formulate policy initiatives.

“The Liberal Democratic Party may weigh its options and let the Komeito and Yixin compete with each other,” Zhonglin said. “The challenge is to what extent Ishin can demonstrate its presence in national politics.”

A key area of ​​cooperation between the three parties is constitutional reform, which requires a two-thirds majority in the parliament and then a majority in a referendum. Although the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito Party won 293 seats in the 465-seat lower house, thereby maintaining a comfortable majority, they still need Ishin to reach the two-thirds threshold.

But as the upper house election approaches next summer, analysts question whether Kishida is willing to take a huge political risk to advance a controversial agenda, which may anger the public and the pacifist Buddhist party Komeito.

Yishen only raised the issue of constitutional amendment during the election period in the context of the legalization of free education, instead of pushing for changes to Article 9 of the abandonment of war.

Party members admit that if they work too closely with the Liberal Democratic Party, they risk losing their identity and repeat their turbulent history of gaining and losing seats.

“The common concern for the third force is the loss of momentum after prosperity,” Ono said. “Our main DNA is reform, so we need to advance without compromise.”

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