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Tokyos Firebrand Governor Quits to Form New National Party

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/world/asia/tokyos- governor- quits- to- form- new- national- party.html October 25, 2012

TOKYO Shintaro Ishihara, the firebrand governor of Tokyo whose obsession with a set of disputed islands prompted Japans latest spat with China, declared on Thursday that he was quitting local politics to start a national party, a move that could escalate the territorial dispute and shift allegiances in Japans soon-to-be-called elections. Mr. Ishihara, an 80-year-old nationalist politician, who has said that Japan should develop nuclear weapons and abandon its pacifist Constitution, has scarce hope of building a party big enough to form a government. But with polls suggesting no clear winner in elections that must be called by August, even a small upstart could use a swing position to punch above its weight and to wreak havoc with foreign policy. Mr. Ishihara said at a news conference in Tokyo that he intended to join forces with two other small nationalist parties including one recently formed by the populist mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto to challenge what he characterized as feckless politicking by the governing Democratic Party and its main opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party. Mr. Ishihara wasted no time Thursday in hurling insults at China and South Korea, referring to them with derisive terms that Japan used during its colonization of much of East Asia in the early 20th century. He said Japan should do more to develop its natural resources so it can stop bowing to the will of its giant neighbor. He also said Japan should do away with its Constitution, which renounces the countrys right to wage war, as quickly as possible. He said it was ridiculous that Japan had kept a charter that was drafted by the United States or, in Mr. Ishiharas terms, a conquering army after World War II. He added that he would personally support reintroducing military conscription to instill discipline in young Japanese. Im 80 years old, and I ask myself: Why does it have to be me? Why cant the young get their act together? Mr. Ishihara said. But if Japan keeps going like this, it will sink into a pit and die, he said. While I still have life, Id like to offer my last service to this country, he said. Mr. Ishihara said he had submitted his resignation Thursday, though it was expected to take up to a week for it to be officially processed. His replacement will be elected in a citywide ballot that must be called within 50 days, and Tokyos three vice governors will run the city in the meantime, according to news reports. His announcement came as Chinese ships entered waters near the disputed islands, which Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu, for the first time in three weeks, prompting a strong protest from Japan. Four Chinese surveillance ships were spotted within waters that Tokyo considers its own, near one of the islands in the East China Sea. Japans Foreign Ministry said it had protested to Beijings ambassador to Tokyo. A return to the national stage by Mr. Ishihara could escalate the islands dispute. It was Mr. Ishihara who said last spring that he wanted Tokyo to buy the islands from their owner, a Japanese citizen, to better defend them from China. Under pressure not to look weak in advance of the elections, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda quickly said the central government would buy the islands instead, a

move that apparently was meant to calm the situation but instead triggered angry protests across China. Mr. Ishihara, once a novelist and a lawmaker of the Liberal Democratic Party, achieved notoriety in the United States with his 1989 book The Japan That Can Say No. It urged a more assertive policy toward America, though the aggressiveness was toned down in the books English translation. Despite his brazenness, or perhaps because of it, Mr. Ishihara made few real inroads in national politics, prompting him to retire in 1995 after a quarter-century in office. He made a political comeback in 1999, however, as mayor of Tokyo, riding his star power to win four consecutive terms. (His late brother, Yujiro, was also famous, as a film actor.) Since then, Mr. Ishihara has fashioned a curious mix of populist and conservative rhetoric. He has, among other things, blamed Japans rising crime rate on foreigners, especially Chinese immigrants, while waging an unpopular war on comic book pornography and Tokyos adult entertainment industry. He survived two unsuccessful bids by Tokyo to host the Olympics. More than once, Mr. Ishihara has landed in trouble for gaffes, notably ones involving women; he once said that women beyond childbearing age had no right to a long life. So upset was he at the state of affairs in Japan that he called last years tsunami divine punishment for the countrys missteps, a statement he was eventually forced to retract. But Mr. Ishihara has reserved his fiercest attacks for the Japanese establishment, especially the countrys bureaucrats a sentiment that has resonated with a public weary of governance widely seen as ineffective at best and cronyism at worst. Bureaucrats have no new ideas. All they do is postpone important decisions, Mr. Ishihara said. Few others seemed to escape Mr. Ishiharas disdain at his rambling news conference, including the Liberal Democratic Party, to which he said he would never return. He said he had no patience for Japans ailing business community, referring to Hiromasa Yonekura, the head of Japans largest business lobby, as that raccoon dog. And he lashed out at the Japanese news media, calling them brainless, cowardly and ill-informed. It is unclear how much of a force Mr. Ishihara can hope to become in national elections for Parliaments powerful lower house, which must be called by next August. With the governing Democrats popularity sagging, the opposition Liberal Democrats are expected to make big gains but neither party appears likely to win a majority, and will need to join forces with splinter parties to form a government. Such a scenario could place those small parties like the one Mr. Ishihara hopes to form in a powerful position. He offered few details Thursday on his plans, including what his new party would be called or how many candidates it would field. Nor did he outline how closely he would associate with Mr. Hashimoto and his own new party, the Japan Restoration Association. Though both are nationalists, they differ on major issues like nuclear policy: Mr. Ishihara is a staunch supporter of nuclear power, while Mr. Hashimoto has been far more cautious. The public broadcaster NHK said another nationalist party with just five lawmakers, the Sunrise Party of Japan, had agreed to join forces with Mr. Ishihara, with the aging politician as the new leader.

On Thursday, Mr. Hashimoto told reporters that he welcomed Mr. Ishiharas move, though he said any cooperation would hinge on how closely they could align their policy goals. I see he is launching his final battle, Mr. Hashimoto said. Makiko Inoue contributed reporting from Tokyo.