Japan’s ruling parties in quandary over relationship with Ishin

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Nobuyuki Baba, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), asks questions during a Diet session in Tokyo on Thursday.

The Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner Komeito are in a quandary. How much distance should they keep with the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party)?

Compared with other opposition parties, the ruling parties are finding Ishin cooperative on many issues, including the management of Diet affairs, and cannot just brush off the party’s demands on policy measures and Diet reform.

Both the LDP and Komeito have their own reasons for wanting to avoid a confrontation with Ishin.

During a question-and-answer session in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Ishin’s coleader Nobuyuki Baba strongly called for a review of the “correspondence allowance,” a monthly lump-sum stipend paid to Diet members, ostensibly for use in communications, transportation and accommodations but with no verification nor accountability.

“The reform is about to be put off by quibbling in Nagatacho,” Baba said, referring to the Japanese political center. “I would have to call the political groups turning their back on the reform a horde of termites swarming around taxes paid through the sweat of the people.”

Both the ruling and opposition parties are on the same page about introducing a system to pay the correspondence allowances at a daily rate. However, the ruling parties are balking at Ishin’s proposal of disclosing how the allowances are spent by submitting receipts.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is bearing the brunt of the criticism, would only respond with, “Diet members should increase their efforts to reach a consensus through discussions.”

Meanwhile, Baba pressed Kishida, in his capacity as leader of the LDP, to step up efforts regarding constitutional amendment. “As the LDP president, couldn’t you show strong determination to lead the debate on the Constitution?” he asked.

“I myself have a strong determination to take on the issue seriously,” Kishida responded.

After Baba presented Ishin’s own “grand reform plan for Japan,” Kishida indicated it would be given attention. “We want to discuss [the reform] thoroughly, including your party’s proposal,” he said.

Ishin made major gains in the lower house election in late October and has since presented counterproposals to measures by the government and ruling parties in rapid succession. Taking into account that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which took a hard-line stance against the government, lost seats in the election, Ishin has gradually pursued its own style of opposing measures on a case-by-case basis.

In the past, Ishin occasionally sided with the ruling parties on legislation that split the ruling and opposition blocs, leading a senior LDP official to let slip, “It is more difficult to deal with [Ishin] than the opposition parties that oppose everything.”

Unlike the CDPJ and other opposition parties, Ishin draws support from a similar base with the LDP, making the LDP wary that a wrong response to Ishin could cost it votes in next summer’s House of Councillors election.

As the ruling party intends to launch full-fledged work on constitutional amendment from next year, it particularly wants to keep Ishin, which has shown to be on board on the issue, in the fold.

Komeito also has benefited, as it picked up seats in the lower house election after Ishin decided not to field candidates in six constituencies in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures.

Observers point out that a rift exists between the LDP and Komeito over the issues of constitutional amendment and security measures. Some Komeito members are concerned that constitutional amendment could bring the LDP and Ishin too close together.

Within the LDP, some members believe the relationship with Ishin should be a delicate balancing act. “It’s not wise to pay too much heed to Ishin,” a former cabinet member said.