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PM Abe courts Nippon Ishin cooperation on Constitution with Osaka G-20 pick

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui speaks at the opening ceremony for the Medical Japan 2018 expo and conference in Suminoe Ward, Osaka, on Feb. 21, 2018. (Mainichi)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen entering the prime minister's office on Feb. 22, 2018. (Mainichi)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government decided on Feb. 20 to hold the 2019 Group of Twenty (G-20) summit meeting in Osaka in an apparent bid to court cooperation for constitutional revision from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), which has wide support in the city.

Moreover, the move appears designed to obtain the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Osaka Prefecture chapter for Abe's party leadership re-election bid this autumn.

Abe and his government are attempting to kill two birds with one stone.

"The prime minister was wavering between Osaka and Fukuoka until the last minute," a close Abe aide said. In the end, the prime minister selected Osaka for the G-20 summit largely because the city is Nippon Ishin's stronghold. "The prime minister has constantly said he needs cooperation from not only (junior coalition partner) Komeito but also Nippon Ishin," the aide added.

To show consideration to Ishin head and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, the central government has fully cooperated with the prefecture's bid to host World Expo 2025. By selecting Osaka as the venue for the 2019 G-20 conference, the government's has expressed hope that Nippon Ishin will further cooperate with Abe in amending the postwar Constitution.

"Having hosted an international conference will be a major factor in getting a successful bid (for the World Expo)," said a senior official in the prime minister's office.

Holding the G-20 summit in Osaka in 2019 could also help boost the local LDP chapter's support for Abe in his LDP president re-election bid. Abe held a luncheon meeting with Akira Sato, head of the party's Osaka Prefecture chapter, and other senior chapter members at the prime minister's official residence on Feb. 16.

During the meeting, the chapter executives asked the prime minister to select Osaka to host the G-20 summit. At the time, Abe declined to say if he would acquiesce, but instead pointed out that his "approval rating in Osaka is second only to that in Yamaguchi Prefecture," where his constituency is located. The remark was apparently made in reference to the fact that he garnered about as many Osaka chapter votes as former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba did in the 2012 party leadership race, though Ishiba got more local chapter votes than Abe in other areas.

On Feb. 20, the prime minister phoned Sato and notified him that the government had selected Osaka to host the G-20 summit, saying, "I'd like to seek your cooperation."

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso recommended Fukuoka, where his constituency is located, as the G-20 conference venue. The city emerged as a key rival to Osaka by trying to secure enough rooms at high-class hotels for G-20 leaders and other high-ranking officials, which was a bottleneck for Fukuoka's bid to host the conference. Osaka, however, emerged victorious.

While Fukuoka ultimately lost out on the G-20 leaders' conference, the government is expected to hold the G-20 summit for finance ministers and central bank governors in the city out of consideration for Aso.

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