What seemed to be totally out of the blue, our Shiga Governor Yukiko Kada has formed a new political party called Nippon Mirai no To (日本未来の党) which means “Party for Japan’s Future.” (Most English news media are translating it as “Japan Future Party” even though there is no official English name as of this writing.) At a press conference on Nov. 27, 2012, she announced the formation of her new party with the primary goal of abolishing nuclear power in Japan in 10 years.
A good number of minor political parties have already joined hands with Governor Kada’s new party, including those led by former political kingpin Ichiro Ozawa and Shizuka Kamei. This news is still breaking, but they have already counted 70 people lining up to be members of the new party. The party is aiming to field 100 candidates in the upcoming elections on Dec. 16 and become the real “third choice or force” in Japan’s national government, something which Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Nippon Ishin Party wants to be vis-a-vis the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and Liberal Democratic Party.
The formation of the new party was actually in planning for weeks if not months, pushed mainly by Ichiro Ozawa who seems to be making his last stand in Japanese politics. This explains the sudden and almost simultaneous agreement among the other parties to disband and join Kada’s party. Ozawa has a history of quitting a party when there was disagreement and forming or joining a new one.
Overnight, Governor Kada has become a national figure with her name and new party making front-page news in Japan. She is now being hounded by the press in Otsu. Unlike Shintaro Ishihara who recently quit his job as Tokyo governor to form a new political party (Sunrise Party or Taiyo no To which later merged with Toru Hashimoto’s party), Governor Kada plans to remain governor of Shiga and act as the new party’s chief without running for a Diet seat.
Governor Kada was spurred to form a new party after learning that many voters did not like any of the major parties. Toru Hashimoto’s promising new party withdrew its initial stance of abolishing nuclear power after pro-nuclear Shintaro Ishihara joined Hashimoto’s party and received a leadership role. Many minor parties opposed to Hashimoto are riding on Governor Kada’s coattails, attracted by her fresh and clean image and her sincere motivation of protecting Lake Biwa from nuclear accidents. Neighboring Fukui Prefecture has the highest concentration of nuclear power plants in Japan.
With the lackluster Democratic Party of Japan struggling to secure votes in the next election, opposition parties smell blood and they are all coming out of the woodwork and jumping at the chance of wrestling power and votes away from the ruling coalition. We have a plethora of large and small political parties in the midst of what I call a Warring Political Parties Era. Since the smaller parties have no chance of gaining clout, they are allying themselves.
However, the problem is that most political parties in Japan have always been and still is fragmented, factional, and short-lived. Even if Governor Kada succeeds in gathering enough little parties, it will inevitably and eventually struggle with internal policy differences between the little groups. This also occurs in the larger parties. Parties and politicians also keep changing their positions. Hashimoto’s about-face regarding nuclear power was very disappointing and put a damper on his party’s prospects of revolutionizing Japan’s government. It has become apparent that he has put priority on party size and unity rather than on policy. And Shintaro Ishihara abandoned the Tokyo governorship to form a new party only to soon disband and join Hashimoto. Politicians are basically just puppets of the bureaucrats who really run the government.
The fact that Ichiro Ozawa and Shizuka Kamei will be in Governor Kada’s new party doesn’t bode well for many of my friends in Shiga. Although the new party is saying that Ozawa will have no formal leadership role or title in the new party, we cannot ignore the fact that he will be bringing 48 Lower House members from his disbanded party to Kada’s new party. It is all but certain that his group in the new party will be the largest, and thus have the most influence. Governor Kada, citing her inexperience and Ozawa’s long experience in national politics, has also said that she will be seeking Ozawa’s advice. Ozawa certainly does not need a formal title or position in the party to wield his influence behind the scenes. Within a few days of the announcement of the new party, he already has close aids as the new party’s deputy leader and accountant. Tetsunari Iida, who was appointed by Governor Kada as the new party’s acting leader, has been demoted to deputy leader.
We wonder whether Governor Kada can keep these political heavyweights in line and whether she can effectively work as governor of Shiga while she heads her new party. Or whether she will only be a figurehead while Ozawa pulls the real strings. Governor Kada is starting to look like that she does not have the time, experience, and expertise in managing a new political party and will have to depend on Ozawa quite a bit. Ozawa knew this all along. Ozawa is turning out to be a very clever manipulator, using Kada as a front for his political gain.
On Nov. 28, 2012, the head of the Shiga Prefectural Assembly, Takanori Sano, asked Governor Kada to resign the governorship if she decides to continue being the head of her new party. He said that it would be difficult to work as both governor and party leader. The Governor declined to offer her resignation saying that her policies on nuclear power and child-rearing would not otherwise be heard at the national level.
Meanwhile, the DPJ, LDP, and Hashimoto are all understandably deriding Kada’s new party. All they need is another major force that can take away votes and influence. I’m disappointed that Hashimoto and Governor Kada cannot work together since they are from the same region of Japan where the nuclear power issue is very important. Shiga supplies water to Osaka via Lake Biwa which is vulnerable to radiation contamination by a nuclear disaster in Fukui.
With her sudden national prominence and fresh new face, I wouldn’t be surprised if Governor Kada pursues a career in national politics after her governorship ends, culminating as a Cabinet minister or even prime minister. This is not unprecedented. Masayoshi Takemura, who was Shiga governor during 1974-1986, was Japan’s Finance Minister in the mid-1990s.
Good luck to Governor Kada. (Nippon Mirai Party official site: http://www.nippon-mirai.jp)