http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-17/tokyo-s-ishihara-joins-hands-with-osaka-mayor-to-fight-election

Bloomberg News

Tokyo’s Ishihara Joins Osaka Mayor to Fight Election

November 18, 2012

Tokyo’s Ishihara Joins Hands With Osaka Mayor to Fight Election

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, left, shakes hands with former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara during Hashimoto's Japan Restoration Party meeting in Osaka on Saturday. Source: Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images

Two of Japan’s most outspoken politicians agreed to combine forces to bolster their challenge to the nation’s main parties in next month’s election.

Shintaro Ishihara, the former Tokyo governor whose bid to buy disputed islands in the East China Sea sparked tensions with China this year, will merge his group into the Japan Restoration Party of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. Ishihara will take the leadership with Hashimoto second-in-command, party secretary general Ichiro Matsui said Nov. 17 at a meeting in Osaka.

“Let’s fight together as one, by letting go of small differences,” Ishihara, 80, said at the meeting. “We can’t create any good unless we change a political system that’s controlled by the central bureaucracy.”

Absorbing Ishihara’s Sunrise Party lends weight to Hashimoto’s attempt to break into national affairs from his regional base in Osaka, said Takuji Okubo, chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors, who has worked as an economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA. Both the former Tokyo governor and ally Takeo Hiranuma, a former trade minister, are politicians with nationwide stature, he said.

“This merger could attract some criticism, such as that the two parties haven’t resolved their policy inconsistency, Okubo said. ‘‘But in our view, positive elements for the JRP outweigh the negatives.’’

Combining Forces

Neither JRP nor Sunrise would gain sufficient support to be a factor in the lower house election set for Dec. 16, Okubo said. By joining, they have significantly boosted their potential to win 50 seats or more, he said.

Combined voter backing for the merging groups totaled 15 percent, according to a Nikkei newspaper poll released today. That was one point behind Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan, while the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party garnered favor from 25 percent in the poll taken Nov. 16, according to the Nikkei.

A separate poll in the Asahi newspaper put the LDP at 22 percent, the DPJ at 15 percent and Ishihara’s new combined party on 7 percent. Neither poll gave a margin of error.

Noda’s popularity has plummeted over his handling of an economy that contracted in the third quarter, and LDP head Shinzo Abe has said he’ll make the premier’s economic stewardship the campaign focus as he seeks to restore power to the party that ruled Japan through most of its postwar decades.

‘Japan Will Sink’

Asked to choose between Abe and Noda as the next prime minister, 37 percent of respondents to the Nikkei poll picked Abe, down three percentage points from last month, while 25 percent picked Noda, up 7 points from last month.

‘‘Japan will sink unless we change all the forces that try to protect the status quo,” Hashimoto, 43, said on Nov. 17. Public support for his party declined after he dropped his opposition to restarting nuclear plants and suggested Japan and South Korea jointly manage islets at the heart of another dispute.

Japan Restoration announced 47 first-round candidates for the lower house election, Kyodo News reported Nov. 17.

Ishihara stepped down as governor of Japan’s capital last month to seek a parliamentary seat in the upcoming vote, taking over as leader of the conservative Sunrise Party, whose youngest lawmaker is 69. Dubbing himself an “old guy running amok,” he has urged a rewriting of the nation’s pacifist constitution, adoption of nuclear weapons, and called last year’s record earthquake and tsunami disaster “divine punishment.”

Hashimoto said yesterday on a TV Asahi broadcast that Ishihara may campaign for a lower house seat from Tokyo in the proportional representation section of the voting.

Ishihara’s proposal in April that Tokyo buy the disputed island chain known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu prompted Noda’s government to purchase the territory, setting off violent protests in China and threatening further damage to the $340 billion trade relationship between Asia’s two biggest economies.

The Nikkei surveyed 927 people by telephone between Nov. 16-18 and did not give a margin of error.

To contact the reporters on this story: Keiko Ujikane in Tokyo at kujikane@bloomberg.net; Monami Yui in Tokyo at myui1@bloomberg.net; Takashi Hirokawa in Tokyo at thirokawa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net


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