There is an up-and-coming political group, deeply conservative and spawned from the power struggles of the last decade, gaining traction by stoking the fires of fiscal dissatisfaction and social frustration that are gaining more traction with the voting populace.
This party’s platform includes such charming planks as radical nationalism, anti-immigration reform, a belligerent distaste for taxes, and a blind eye to programs that help struggling school districts, unions, and recipients of social welfare.
Their plan? Shake the existing government to its foundation, limit its scope, and shift power into radically new directions.
And no, I’m not talking about the Tea Party here in the United States.
From the heart of Japan’s first business district comes Osaka mayor Toru Mr. Hashimoto, leader of what he calls the Osaka Restoration Association (Osaka Ishin no Kai) and contender for the position of Prime Minister. Begun as a way to revitalize and reform his city, the campaign has morphed into a quest for a national power grab with a decidedly conservative outlook.
Supporters see him as an up-and-comer, youthful and more rambunctious than his greying counterparts, and Mr. Hashimoto has indeed taken the Japanese political scene by storm. These supporters believe their candidate is the answer to Japan’s woes, including but not limited to national debt of as much as $1.5 trillion. His solution to this problem lies primarily in tax reform and extensive cost cuts. As polls are showing, voters are intrigued. However, just as we carefully weigh our own options here at home, I encourage Japanese voters to take a careful look at just what this option could entail.
Opponents of Osaka Ishin no Kai make the argument for scrutiny of the origins of this party, the validity of its ideas, and the possibility of a far more conservative Japan.
A hallmark of conservative movements, Mr. Hashimoto has opted to flaunt with great gusto opinions that are taken seriously only by a populace once they are overwhelmed by financial and social crises, imploring voters to “Become warriors…fight together…change Japan”. As we’ve seen time and again, people desperate for change often turn to radical, often nationalistic, forms of thought and Japan is no stranger to this phenomenon. The “Hashists” are more than willing to play in to such fear-driven thinking.
Lightly veiling this variety of conservatism is a plan for cutting wasteful government spending and systemic redundancies primarily by reforming the civil service system. But as we can see from our own experience, such platforms are often an excuse for a witch hunt. Take for example the proposed penalties against public school teachers. Those with visible tattoos would be denied promotions and advancements, and those who choose not to sing the national anthem and salute the flag may suffer salary cuts or dismissal from their posts. According to Mr. Hashimoto, this would cut wasteful government spending on teachers he deems unqualified based on their perceived (lack of) patriotism.
So if Osaka Ishin’s Mr. Hashimoto does make it to the helm of national power, boosting up Osaka and shaking down the public sector, what does that mean for Japan? Under Mr. Hashimoto, the Japanese will be looking at a government that is less productive and cooperative than ever, educators chosen based on the quality of their nationalistic fervor, and gaping holes left where solutions were supposed to be.
We are in the unique position to observe a political situation that closely mirrors our own when choosing our candidates, analyzing their positions on the issues, and considering how our decisions at the polls today will affect our country’s future after Election Day. The lesson I choose to take these observations is to exercise caution and objectivity in the face of financial and political stressors before I do my part and make a choice.
Image source: The Asahi Shimbun