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Osaka Ishin no Kai struggles to expand strength, could affect Abe's Constitution agenda

The defeat in the April 24 House of Representatives by-election in the Kyoto third district of a candidate backed by Osaka Ishin no Kai (Initiatives from Osaka) means that the party is facing an uphill battle to expand its strength in prefectures other than Osaka.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming to lead his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), its coalition partner Komeito and Initiatives from Osaka to secure a combined two-third majority in the upcoming House of Councillors election this summer -- one of the conditions for initiating Constitutional amendments. But if Initiatives from Osaka fails to fare well in the upper house election, it could affect Abe's strategy to revise the supreme law.

Initiatives from Osaka was launched in October last year by Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and then-Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

In the lower house by-election in the Kyoto third district for which the ruling parties did not field their own candidates, the candidate backed by the Democratic Party (DP) garnered about 65,000 votes while the candidate endorsed by Initiatives from Osaka secured only about 21,000 votes, less than one third of what his DP rival got. Nevertheless, Initiatives from Osaka leader Matsui remains upbeat. After a party meeting in the city of Osaka on April 25, Matsui told reporters about his party's plans for fielding candidates in the upper house election, "Nothing has changed at all." His party is planning to field its candidates in all of the 13 electoral districts in which at least two seats will be up for grabs each. The party is aiming to field two candidates in its stronghold of the Osaka electoral district (four seats are up for grabs).

Initiatives from Osaka holds a total of eight upper house seats (three will be up for grabs). If the seats are combined with the LDP's 116 seats and Komeito's 20 seats, the total number of seats held by the three parties is 18 seats short of the two-third majority of 162 seats in the upper chamber. Therefore, the outcome of the upper house election holds the key to whether Prime Minister Abe will be able to move closer to realize his pet project of amending the Constitution. Prime Minister Abe renewed his expectation for cooperation from Initiatives from Osaka, saying on a Nippon TV program on April 29, "It's nearly impossible for us (the ruling parties) alone to secure a two-third majority."

However, after the stunning defeat of its candidate in the latest lower house by-election, some members of Initiatives from Osaka are casting doubt on whether the party will be able to field two candidates in Osaka. Upper house legislator Taro Yamada, who defected from the Assembly to Energize Japan to join Initiatives from Osaka, turned down an offer from the party to appoint him as an official candidate to run in the Saitama electoral district (three seats will be up for grabs) a day after the party decided to officially endorse his candidacy. At that time, he was quoted as telling officials of Initiatives from Osaka, "It is difficult to do a campaign in Saitama." Some party members also suggest that the party's influence has declined due to the absence of former party leader Hashimoto, highlighting the fact that the party is facing a key issue of whether it will in fact be able to penetrate areas beyond Osaka.

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