A new party has come on the scene in Japan, fed by widespread disenchantment with both the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
When the Kyodo news service asked voters what party they would vote for in the proportional representation segment of the lower house elections, the Japan Restoration Party (JRP) came in second, with 13.9 per cent of popular support.
Yet few people outside of the Osaka area have a sense of this new party or its leader, Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto.
The Osaka Restoration Association, led by Hashimoto, is a major force in Osaka. It holds the top two offices of prefectural governor and mayor. On 12 September 2012 Hashimoto founded the JRP as a national political party with the aim of running 350 to 400 candidates for the lower house in the next national election, which may be held by the end of this year.
JRP candidates are mostly former governors and mayors who have gathered around Hashimoto, plus a group of nine incumbent members of the Diet who have recently become JRP members. They are joined by some 900 individuals selected from among 2000 participants in a series of private seminars organised by Hashimoto and known as the Restoration Prep School.
But the rushed expansion of the Osaka-based political party into a national organisation has given rise to a great many problems.
Hashimoto may have overreached in trying to create a political party. The JRP's major policy is to transform the governing structure of Japan from centralised bureaucratic rule to decentralised rule by elected officials, but in its Eight Measures for Restoration, the JRP's platform was extended to include a neoliberal fiscal policy and a social security policy based on self-reliance, competition and natural selection. The Eight Measures also deal with foreign policy and security issues, and include proposals to abolish the House of Councillors and elect the prime minister directly. These policy positions have yet to be fully defined, and the party's inexperienced candidates may find it difficult to defend them.
The poor quality of the JRP candidates is another problem. Some of the former governors running for the JRP are embroiled in scandals involving women, and the media has taken to referring to the 900 or so students as 'Hashimoto's Babies', signalling that the candidates are a bunch of young mediocre politicians. Their behaviour is providing fodder for negative reporting. If Hashimoto's candidates fail to present compelling arguments for JRP policy, the sense of excitement surrounding the new party could quickly wither away.
The party has been criticised by liberal and conservative publications alike. For liberals, the interference with personal freedom involved in such policies as monitoring teachers who object to singing the national anthem during school ceremonies - by watching to see if their lips move - is intolerable. Many conservatives oppose Hashimoto on grounds that he does not honour tradition in the slightest, including in cultural matters.
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