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INTERVIEW | Ishin no Kai and Leader Nobuyuki Baba Bring Osaka Energy to Japanese Politics

The Ishin no Kai party leader talks about what his party stands for, its growing national success since emerging in 2015, and problems associated with the LDP.



Ishin no Kai party leader Nobuyuki Baba in an interview at his office in the National Diet. (©JAPAN Forward)

Japanese politics is not known for its competitive multi-party system. Except for brief periods, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has dominated the political scene since the end of World War II. However, a formidable coalition seeking to curtail the LDP's decades of hegemony is emerging. Surprisingly, it's not the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party but a third party native to Osaka: the Nippon Ishin no Kai.

Founded in 2015, Ishin no Kai is increasingly becoming a national force to be reckoned with. In the latest elections, the party, also called the Japan Innovation Party, gained six additional seats in the Upper House (21 total) and an impressive 30 seats in the Lower House (41 total). 

In the past, opposition parties have occasionally secured a majority in the legislature and claimed the prime ministership. However, their tenure has been short-lived. But fresh winds are blowing in Nagatacho, the political heart of Japan's capital.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his ruling party are mired in the so-called political funds scandal where several LDP lawmakers have been associated with slush funds from the proceeds of selling fund-raiser tickets to political events.

There have been noticeable consequences. All except two factions (those supporting LDP heavyweights Taro Aso and Toshimitsu Motegi ) have disbanded. Several politicians, including Yoshitaka Ikeda and Yasutada Ono, have been arrested as the prosecution continues its heavy-handed probe. 

Meanwhile, Kishida's already record-low approval rating has plunged.

Ishin no Kai leader Nobuyuki Baba gestures during an interview. (©JAPAN Forward)

Against this background, Ishin no Kai leader Nobuyuki Baba, a member of the House of Representatives for Osaka's 17th district sat down with JAPAN Forward to talk about politics. In the interview, Baba discussed various topics, from his party's success to problems associated with the LDP.

Excerpts follow.


On Japanese Politics

Ishin no Kai has triumphed in the last Upper and Lower House elections, while the two largest parties lost a sizable number of seats. What is the secret to your party's success?

Politicians are fundamentally liars. First and foremost, we politicians must reform ourselves before asking our constituents for help. I believe the saying goes, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Osaka Prefecture has been implementing administrative and fiscal reforms amidst a difficult financial situation. Total seats in the Prefectural Assembly were cut by 20%, so 21 assembly seats were reduced in one swoop. 

Compensation was also cut by 30%. We have demonstrated our resolve at the prefectural level before moving to national politics. 

Unfortunately, the Kishida government doesn't operate the same way. They advocate building a stronger national defense, but how? By raising taxes. They promise to help raise kids, but how? By throwing taxpayer money at the problem as subsidies. It's easy to prescribe policies at the expense of our voters. 

Ishin no Kai's prefectural success spread to the Kansai region and now to the national level. Our recent electoral triumphs are a reflection and culmination of those successes. 

Some critics describe Ishin no Kai's policies as populist. How do you feel about this assessment?   

Ishin no Kai believes that taxes are money temporarily borrowed from our constituents. 

Some critics, for instance, contend our policy of free education is rooted in populism. But in Osaka, preschool, kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, university, and even graduate school are gradually offered free of charge. What part of this is populism? 

PM Fumio Kishida receives a policy proposal from Nobuyuki Baba in 2022. (©Prime Minister's Office of Japan)

Take another policy at the national level. The Kishida administration is continuing the pre-existing gasoline tax policy. That keeps gas prices relatively high due to multiple kinds of taxes imposed on gasoline. We want to eliminate one of those taxes, a temporary tax of ¥21.5 JPY ($.14 USD) per liter. Instead, the administration is providing subsidies to gasoline distributors. 


Taxes should be cut so the money can stay in consumers' pockets. What is populist about that?

Even if the number of current Diet members is reduced by fifty, approximately ¥5 billion ($33 million) can be saved. Opponents always tell me, "The national budget is ¥1 trillion yen ($6.6 billion). Five billion yen is nothing." If that's the case, I respond, "Use your own money to cover the expenses!" 

They always blabber about a need for reform. But who's the one really needing reform here? 

On Expo 2025

The City of Osaka will be hosting Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai. Meanwhile, there has been fierce debate over the rising budget. Is it a double-edged sword for your party? 

Unlike the Olympics, which is a city event, the World Expo is a national event. So, while Osaka is the host city, some aspects of the project are beyond our control.

As you mentioned, rising construction costs and potential over budget are important issues. However, the increasing construction costs are largely a social phenomenon. I think most of the public understands that labor and material costs have jumped significantly over the past few years.

What's crucial is the content of the Expo. Next year, some 160 countries will exhibit their latest science and medical technology in Osaka. There are also hidden business opportunities. Ishin no Kai will help related industries capitalize on and commercialize these opportunities. 

On the Party's Political Future

What is needed for Ishin no Kai to become the ruling party? Will the LDP be able to weather the storm and survive? 

Politics is basically a numbers game. To have a more significant voice in the Diet and pass hallmark legislation, you need to have more seats. So, that will be our focus moving forward. 

The LDP lawmakers were originally powerful local aristocrats and personages. But patrimonialism and hereditary succession have become so rampant in LPD circles, with most second and third-generation not knowing anything about their district or constituents. Most, of course, were born and raised in Tokyo. 


The LDP is increasingly becoming a party with weak limbs and out of touch. These realities probably led to the recent slush fund shenanigans. If it were 20 or 30 years ago, young and high-spirited lawmakers would not have stood idly by while older politicians ran such corrupt schemes. But now, everyone is busy keeping their mouth shut and toeing the mainstream party line. 

With the eruption of wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, there are growing concerns about Japan's security. What are Ishin no Kai's policies on Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and nuclear weapons? 

We are protected by the so-called American nuclear umbrella. But at what point will Washington actually use its arsenals to protect Japan? This is a critical question.

Therefore, we need to have continued dialogue and share military information and strategies with the United States. Will it be in the form of nuclear sharing or lending nuclear submarines? At the same time, though, Tokyo must share the responsibility and the consequences equally. 

PM Kishida and US President Joe Biden attend the IPEF forum in Toyko in May 2022 (©Prime Minister's Office of Japan)

Our party has its own proposal for replacing Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. Fundamentally, we politicians, along with the Japanese people, need to understand that the current Article 9 undermines our security and the Self-Defense Forces' position. 

It also invalidates the great works of those in uniform. Revising Article 9, therefore, [i.e., to recognize the Self-Defense Forces as constitutionally legitimate] will increase their legal stability.  

No serious Japanese today believe that the Self-Defense Forces are menacing organizations, except maybe the Communist Party of Japan. Amending the law will reopen the debate on national security and defense. 

Likewise, in the rapidly evolving regional and global geopolitics, a constitutional amendment will help our forces better contribute to maintaining peace and prosperity. There will come a time when Japan will have to take the lead in regional conflicts.


Authors: Kenji Yoshida and Jason Morgan


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