Swing voters key to Ishin nearly quadrupling seats

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ichiro Matsui, head of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), speaks as vice head Hirofumi Yoshimura listens during a press conference in Osaka on Sunday night.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) won 41 seats in Sunday’s House of Representatives election, nearly four times the 11 seats it held at the start of official campaigning.

All Ishin candidates who ran in constituencies in Osaka Prefecture won seats, while the party also won at least one seat in each of the proportional representation blocs except for Hokkaido.

Ishin successfully attracted swing voters by promoting itself as a reform-minded “third force,” as it took different positions from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

“We have continued to say Japan needs structural reform and many voters agreed, which is why we could increase our number of seats,” said party leader Ichiro Matsui at a press conference on Sunday night in Osaka, where his party is based.

Matsui had set a “minimum goal” of winning at least 21 seats in the lower house election, because a party with 21 seats or more can submit a bill to the lower house on its own as long as it does not involve budgetary expenditure. Ishin’s great strides in the latest election will definitely give it a greater presence in the Diet because the party, which used to be the fifth-largest party in the lower house, has now become the third-largest.

While the CDPJ, the Japanese Communist Party and three other opposition parties established a united front against the ruling block, Ishin did not join their framework for election cooperation. The party instead criticized it as an “unprincipled alliance of convenience because they hold contradicting stances regarding fundamental national issues such as foreign and security policies.”

When it comes to the LDP, Ishin used to take a cooperative stance toward the ruling party thanks to the personal relationship between Matsui and former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who was also LDP president. However, Ishin has become confrontational toward the party since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida took office.

Matsui and other Ishin executives have criticized the Kishida Cabinet, saying the administration has “no mindset for reform as it stands by entrenched interest groups.” For the recent lower house election, the party set the goal of “driving the LDP into the minority.”

The so-called Osaka metropolis plan — Ishin’s signature policy that aims to dissolve and reorganize Osaka City — was turned down once again in a second referendum in November lastyear. As Matsui also serves as mayor of the city, it was believed that the result would likely stall the party’s momentum.

During the campaign for the general election, Matsui and Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, who also serves as Ishin’s vice head, took time out of their official duties to travel to various parts of the nation. In addition to reform in the central government, the two party leaders called for exemptions from tuition fees for education up to tertiary study, reform in the nation’s governing system, and promoting discussions on constitutional amendments to establish a constitutional court.