Ishin Gains Strength in Kinki Region as LDP Loses by Wide Margin

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Makoto Yamashita, center, a candidate backed by Nippon Ishin celebrates in Nara City on Sunday night after his victory became certain in the Nara gubernatorial election.

Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) displayed significant strength in the Kinki region on Sunday, winning the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections in its home base as well as the Nara gubernatorial race.

This was in stark contrast to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which suffered from a lack of unity in all these contests. The government and ruling bloc are concerned about how Sunday’s results will affect the by-election for the House of Representatives in Wakayama Constituency No. 1 slated for April 23.

“[The election results] have proved that the politics pursued by Ishin for the past 12 years have not been wrong,” Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said at a press conference on Sunday night. “I believe this reflects the voice of the people of Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City, who are telling us to accelerate our progress further.”

Next to Yoshimura was Hideyuki Yokoyama, who won the Osaka mayoral race to replace Ichiro Matsui, the former head of Ishin, who is retiring from politics. The two men shook hands firmly.

Osaka Ishin is a regional political party that became the foundation for national political party Ishin. Osaka Ishin has held the posts of both governor and mayor of Osaka since 2011.

Immediately after the polls closed at 8 p.m. on Sunday, the candidates backed by Ishin were reported to be certain to win the gubernatorial and mayoral races, indicating that Ishin politics have taken root in Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City.

Linking strategy

This was the first time that Ishin candidates won both gubernatorial and mayoral elections in which they did not advocate the party’s signature policy of creating an Osaka metropolis. Instead, they emphasized the achievements of the party’s self-sacrificing reforms. They touted the fact that Ishin has reduced the number of seats in the Osaka prefectural and city assemblies, as well as the remuneration of local government leaders.

“We won’t bring back an era in which the prefectural and city governments are divided,” Yoshimura said during the campaign.

Ishin also set a goal of gaining a majority in the Osaka city assembly for the first time, and Yoshimura drew much attention for his announcement that he would resign as the representative of Osaka Ishin if the goal could not be achieved. This strategy of linking the gubernatorial race with assembly elections is believed to have been successful in gaining votes from LDP supporters as well.

Lack of unity

The LDP has been unable to recover from its setback in Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City. In the 2019 gubernatorial and mayoral races, the Osaka prefectural chapter of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, as well as the Japanese Communist Party, encouraged their members to vote in support of a candidate recommended by the LDP and Komeito’s Osaka prefectural headquarters. However, the forces seeking to counter Ishin were soundly defeated.

In the 2021 lower house election, the LDP-endorsed candidates lost to Ishin candidates in all 15 constituencies they contested in Osaka Prefecture.

This time, the LDP headquarters kept its distance from the campaigns for Sunday’s gubernatorial and mayoral elections, unlike the previous races in which senior LDP members traveled to Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City to join the campaign every day.

The LDP’s Osaka prefectural chapter struggled to select a candidate for the gubernatorial election — a TV station official, among others, declined to run. The LDP eventually encouraged its party members to support at their own discretion Mayumi Taniguchi, a former university associate professor, whom CDPJ members initially sounded out about running for governor.

However, a number of Osaka prefectural assembly members refused to support Taniguchi, who had criticized the LDP administration in the past.

Initially, some within the LDP saw a chance to win the mayoral election, in which two newcomers were to be the main contenders.

One of them, Taeko Kitano, a former Osaka city assembly member, left the LDP and like Taniguchi was endorsed by the political group Update Osaka. However, this move failed to unite “non-Ishin” forces.

There was some confusion within the LDP during the campaign over how to handle integrated resorts (IR) with casinos — a project being promoted by the Osaka prefectural and city governments.

By-election key

In the gubernatorial elections in Nara and Tokushima prefectures, the LDP failed to agree on a single candidate due to a lack of coordination, resulting in a split in conservative votes. This allowed Makoto Yamashita, a candidate endorsed by Ishin, to win the Nara race.

“We need to make more efforts to improve the reputation of our party in the Kansai region, especially in Osaka,” Hiroshi Moriyama, chairperson of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee, said at the party’s headquarters on Sunday night in response to the election results.

Regarding the lower house by-election in the Wakayama constituency, Moriyama said, “I don’t think there will be no impact, but there are elections for each region, so we have to try.”

Speaking to reporters in Osaka City, Ishin party leader Nobuyuki Baba said voters in Nara Prefecture had made it clear that they want Ishin to make Nara like Osaka.

“There is no doubt it will help expand the party’s strength,” he said.