The mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, was once a rising star in Japanese politics. But his recent utterances on the “necessity” of World War Two “comfort women” have brought a heavy price for him and his Restoration Party. Recent local elections in Tokyo saw Hashimoto’s party suffer a crushing defeat. But the far right’s loss has been the center right’s gain.
Abandoned by voters. Toru Hashimoto’s Restoration Party sustained a major blow in June’s Prefectural election in Tokyo.
Among 34 nationalist candidates, only two were elected. Many blame co-party leader Hashimoto for the losses, including himself.
"We’ve completely lost the election. This is my responsibility. If we have any other chances, I want to keep trying," Toru Hashimoto said.
Toru Hashimoto sparked furor at home and abroad over a number of outspoken comments. He was once quoted as saying Japan needs a dictatorship.
In May, he said World War Two sex slaves for Japanese soldiers had been "necessary". He also suggested US soldiers in Japan’s Okinawa island use local prostitutes, to reduce sex crimes against local women.
But Hashimoto’s party’s losses have meant gains for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. It swept the board in the Tokyo elections, with all 59 candidates winning seats on the 127-member Tokyo assembly.
"The LDP’s performance in the Tokyo Prefectural election means the LDP will likely win in the upper house election in late July," said Yang Bojiang, Japan Expert with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Shinzo Abe himself has also been under fire over policies that appear to lean towards radical nationalism.
Since taking office in 2012, he’s steered away from showing remorse for Japanese wartime atrocities in the 1930s and 1940s.
Abe has actually been pushing for a better-funded and better-equipped self-defence force, with the eventual aim of turning it into a fully-fledged military.
In April, Abe made a ritual offering to the Yasukuni Shrine -- seen as a symbol of Japan’s former militarism.
Some analysts say the LDP’s success in Tokyo could have been planned, with an ulterior motive.
"On the eve of upper house election, Toru Hashimoto became a secret storm trooper for Shinzo Abe. His comments on comfort women did a big favor to Abe and his LDP. His defiant nonsense softened the hardline stance of Abe’s administration, and completely diverted the public firepower," Yang Bojiang said.
The LDP’s win has raised fears that right-wing forces are once again on the rise in Japan.
After World War Two, many officials who’d worked under war criminal Hideki Tojo continued in key political positions.
Among them was Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, an internationally recognized class A war criminal, and a member of Tojo’s cabinet.
Kishi was elected as Japanese Prime Minister in 1957.
Analysts say that if the right-wing continues to gain more power and influence in Japan, then ties between Japan and its neighbors will continue to become more and more strained.
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