Monday, November 23, 2015

Double Take In Osaka

What to make of yesterday's double victory of the Osaka Ishin no Kai in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral races? (Link)

Not terribly much. At least not on a national scale.

While the candidates of Hashimoto Toru's and Matsui Ichiro's start up party were able to seize both posts over united establishment rivals, keeping alive Hashimoto's pet project of transforming Osaka into a metropolitan district (the merits of which no one has yet been able to explain to me) the caveats to the victories are many.

First was voter turnout. The gubernatorial and mayoral races attracted 45.4% and 50.5% of the voters, respectively. Both numbers were down from the last Osaka double election, 7.4% down in the prefectural race and a big 10.4% down in the race for the Osaka mayor's office. Both figures were way, way down from the Osaka unification referendum in May where 2/3 of the voters showed up in a contest Hashimoto's forces lost by a whisper. (Link - J)

Second was the ambivalent position of the Abe Administration toward Osaka's political actors. Despite their immense difference in backgrounds, Prime Minister Abe and Hashimoto have long seen each other in a common cause. Hashimoto indeed asked Abe four years ago to leave the Liberal Democratic Party and become leader of his first upstart national party. Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide have been very solicitous of Hashimoto, making time in their schedules to meet with him and saying nice things about him at every invitation.

The close political cooperative relationship between Abe and Hashimoto has engineered a complete breakdown in coordination and trust between the Osaka chapters of the LDP and the national LDP headquarters. The LDP in Osaka ran its own candidates in the double election, asking for and receiving electoral support from blood rivals the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party. The election also caused a minor split between national allies the LDP and Komeito, with the Osaka Komeito chapter releasing its supporters to vote for whomever they wished.

Third, even with their victories in the executive branch posts, the Osaka Ishin no Kai still lacks enough seats in the prefectural and municipal assemblies to initiate the metro area plan. Osaka Ishin no Kai will still need cooperation from another party, ostensibly the Komeito since they are the enemies of just about everybody else.

Fourth, even with this victory, the Osaka Ishin no Kai is still only the rump of the rump of the national party Hashimoto co-led to an astonishing second-place finish in the proportional vote of the House of Representatives election of 2012. Independents spin-offs of the national party still remain in other parts of the country, some clinging to the Ishin brand name while clinging also to a significant amount of Hashimoto's cash in their bank accounts. Hashimoto is going to be fighting for that money -- to the detriment of his political mission and the forward progress of his regionalist movement.

Tactically, Prime Minister Abe's embrace of Hashimoto seems a disaster. He has made enemies of the LDP establishment in Osaka, Japan's second city.

Strategically, however, Abe's continued encouragement of Hashimoto's efforts hurts the national forces of opposition. As long as Hashimoto and his acolytes are in operation, the Kansai region has its own, home-grown opposition to the LDP. With the Ishin no Kai and the LDP slugging it out, perhaps good-naturedly (if Abe invests the time to bring the two sides to a truce) in the Kansai, the DPJ will have forego making a play for the Kansai's rich harvest of seats, making the path to becoming a worthwhile national challenger to the LDP all the harder.

Later - This morning's NHK news has zero reports on the Osaka elections results. Granted, today is a national holiday, meaning that NHK's newscasts are abbreviated. However, even the commercial networks seem to be downplaying the story -- demonstrating that the post-Koizumi, post-DPJ erosion of the image of politics and politicians continues. While terrible news for governance in Japan, the continued decline of the salience of politics is great news for those infatuated with/dependent upon the façade of stability.

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