Japan from the inside out

Watanabe Yoshimi on political alliances

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 6, 2012

A coalition government would be the best (way) to prevent an election being fought on the issues of a consumption tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants.
– Sengoku Yoshito, chief cabinet secretary in the first Kan Naoto cabinet and current backroom DPJ heavyweight

THE biweekly Sapio interviewed Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi about his views on potential alliances between his party, the successful regional parties, and a new party that might be formed by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. The premise of the interview was that the ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Liberal Democrats and New Komeito have formed a de facto coalition to pass the consumption tax increase. The magazine referred to this coalition as Tax Increase Assistance Association, a deliberate play on words using some of the kanji from the name of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association, a body formed in 1940 by disbanding the political parties and merging them into one central organization with the bureaucracy and military leadership. The interview appeared in the 18 July edition.

Q: Tokyo Metro District Governor Ishihara Shintaro is showing signs of responding to the One Osaka group by forming a new political party. Will Your Party, One Osaka, and a new Ishihara party create a third force in Japanese politics?

Watanabe: I’ll be paying attention to the policies of a new Ishihara party. Gov. Ishihara’s true values have been those of a right-leaning conservative politician for many years. In contrast, while Mr. Hashimoto does support the group singing of the national anthem, he is not necessarily a politician that leans to the right. I have the impression that his thoughts and beliefs are very restrained. You can get an idea of his thinking by looking at the instructors in foreign policy and security at his political juku, based on One Osaka’s eight statements of principle. They selected people who aren’t hawks, such as Okamoto Yukio and Kitaoka Shin’ichi.

I wonder how far Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Ishihara would be able to work together on foreign policy and security. To begin with, the stance of One Osaka is opposition to the consumption tax increase and their proposal that the tax should be made a revenue source for local government. I have not heard Mr. Ishihara express an opinion like that.

Q: People are saying that Sonoda Hiroyuki, the Sunrise Japan party secretary general and the driving force behind a new Ishihara party, has called on One Osaka and Your Party to form an alliance.

Watanabe: The next election will certainly be fought on the issues of the tax increase and the restart of the nuclear power plants. We’ve said that there are things to do before raising taxes, and things we must do before restarting the plants. Sunrise Japan probably supports the restart of the plants, and thinks the tax increase is necessary, putting them close to the LDP. Even if Mr. Ishihara created a new party with people of that sort and became its head, it wouldn’t create an opposing force to the LDP and DPJ.

Q: You could not create a third force with a new Ishihara party?

Watanabe: I haven’t heard that Mr. Ishihara is opposed to a tax increase or restarting the power plants. Without agreement on those…

Q: Both Your Party and One Osaka promote the deregulation of power generation. You’re in agreement with Gov. Ishihara on that point.

Watanabe: The deregulation of power generation is part of our agenda. We think Tokyo Electric Power should be liquidated, and the assets that can be sold should be sold off on the premise that the generation and transmission operations will be separated. Discussions might move forward if he goes so far as to make that argument for complete deregulation. Mr. Ishihara says he is going to launch a new party. I’m at the stage now where I can’t make a judgement until the party has been formed and I hear what policies they will pursue.

Further, the extremely strong ties in the Ishihara family are very well known. His children respect their father, and the father is concerned about his sons. Mr. Ishihara’s eldest son is the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, and his third son was defeated in an election running as an LDP candidate. Considering that, I wonder if he would really launch a new party that would interfere with his sons. If the intent of the new party is to be a supplementary force to the LDP, then we wouldn’t be able to work with them. It is necessary to take the measure of the new Ishihara party policies and their political course.

Q: But One Osaka has invited Mr. Ishihara to lecture at their political juku, and Mr. Hashimoto and other senior party members are holding discussions with former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo of the LDP. Aren’t One Osaka and the LDP coming closer together?

Watanabe: Perhaps the thinking of the people at One Osaka is that if none of their senior members, such as Mayor Hashimoto or Osaka Gov. Matsui, enter national politics, the only people from One Osaka who will be in national politics are first term council members. One might imagine that they could have exchanged opinions with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Abe about who would be suitable to play a leadership role in uniting the Diet members.

If that is the case, it would be a problem if all of a sudden, their leader in the Diet was still an LDP member. But Mr. Ishihara seems to be thinking of using Sunrise Japan as the core of his new party, and Mr. Abe does not seem to be interested in leaving the LDP.

In that regard, I think One Osaka’s strategy and organization will now begin to take shape. What’s important is that the DPJ and the LDP have gotten on board the current governance mechanism of centralized authority led by the bureaucracy. Both Your Party and One Osaka say that governance mechanism should be changed. We would be finished in the instant we joined hands with an existing party. That’s why we will not become a supplementary force to an existing party.

They’ve got the ABCs down, now to work it out as far as the XYZs. Uehara Hiromi playing piano is as good an image as any of the political ferment in Japan today below the level of the National Political Establishment. Watch and listen to her bang her right fist into the keyboard at about the 2.30 mark, slip in a bit of salsa, and then go roaring off in several other directions.

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