The case for Toru Hashimoto
Every so often in politics, the proverbial pot is stirred. Japan’s last ladle came in the form of Junichiro Koizumi. Fast forward six years, and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is shaping up to be the next.
Young, charismatic and belligerent, Hashimoto is the antithesis of a typical Japanese politician in both personality and policy. The 43-year-old maverick has proposed sweeping change in the municipal public sector, including the implementation of performance-based benchmarks on grade and secondary school faculty; the privatization of the Osaka Municipal Subway; spending cuts to the fine arts; and a near 50% reduction of the municipal government workforce. On the national front, Hashimoto has called for abolition of nuclear power; the elimination of the Diet’s upper house; and strongly supports upping national defense. Substantial views, from a politician with no real political experience on the federal stage.
Substance, however, is what the public seems to want from a national government that - in recent recollection - has had anything but. Movement on Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreements has been slow, if not wholly nonexistent. The only result yielded by Japan’s continued spat with China over the Senkaku islands has been damaged economic relations. It does not come as any surprise to those even vaguely familiar with East Asian politics how poorly the Japanese government currently sits in the view of its people.
It is easy to see the sway Hashimoto holds in light of the above; more than ever, change is needed in a country that, for all its hustle and bustle, seems to be at a standstill. In the eyes of many, his brand of politics is certainly preferential to that of the old guard. Change is needed, and Hashimoto has promised to deliver change.
How effective Hashimoto will be in delivering this change, however, is an entirely different matter. Pointing the metaphoric gun and shooting everything on site may not bode well in a system that has largely been run by mutual backscratching. Farmers and rural dwellers, who hold a disproportionate amount of power in Japanese government, are staunchly opposed to his plan of joining the TPP.
While popular in Osaka, recognition of the political firebrand dips as one ventures farther from Kansai region. The internal power struggle between him and ex-Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara following the merger of his party with Ishihara’s certainly lends no favor to his cause. Although surmountable, the challenges facing Hashimoto in his quest to the top are not insignificant.
Nonetheless, Hashimoto’s existence in the oft-opaque world of Japanese politics will spark inevitable change. Whether that change is for the better or worse is a matter that can only be told through the passage of time.