Photo/Illutration Ichiro Matsui, the Osaka mayor who heads Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), addresses a party congress in Osaka on March 27. (Chifumi Shinya)

OSAKA--Looking to further extend its reach, opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) set a goal of winning at least 12 seats in the Upper House election this summer, double its six seats that will be up for grabs.

“We should work to enlarge our force so that the administration of the Liberal Democratic Party will not be able to afford to ignore us,” Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, head of the party, said a Nippon Ishin congress here on March 27.

“The reforms that we have implemented should be extended beyond Osaka, which will help achieve a sustainable Japan,” he said.

Nippon Ishin won 10 seats in the previous Upper House election in 2019 and currently holds 15 seats in the upper chamber. Half of the chamber’s 248 seats are up for re-election every three years. 

Nippon Ishin marked its 10th year since entering national politics. It was originally formed as a regional party based in Osaka Prefecture.

Although the conservative party’s main support remains in the Kansai region, its leaders aim to wield more influence nationally after the party dramatically increased its seats to 41 from 11 in the Lower House election last October.

It is now the second largest opposition party in the Lower House.

Nippon Ishin also adopted a goal of expanding its strength in the next Lower House election to a level that threatens to replace the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as the main opposition party.

It first plans to surpass the CDP in terms of votes cast in the proportional representation segment of the upcoming Upper House election.

In addition, Nippon Ishin wants to double the number of its elected representatives outside Osaka Prefecture in nationwide local government elections in spring 2023.

But it faces a slew of challenges.

The party’s network on local levels is still weak, compared with those of the LDP and the CDP.

Matsui’s planned resignation from politics next spring could dampen the party’s momentum, given that Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, also a party member, has not shown any interest in succeeding Matsui.

Nippon Ishin is increasingly pursuing its own course toward the Upper House election, opting out of working with other opposition parties in fielding a unified candidate in single-seat constituencies.

It has been also raising its profile in national politics in recent months.

Last fall, Nippon Ishin was among the first to raise the issue of lawmakers receiving the full 1 million yen ($8,130) in monthly correspondence allowance, even if they worked for only one day of a month.

This issue is expected to be debated in the current Diet session.

The party is also pressing the government to start debate on whether Japan should “share” the possession of U.S. nuclear weapons in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The party has said the topic should not remain a taboo.

In line with the pacifist Constitution, Japan has embraced the three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons in the country.

(This article was written by Chifumi Shinya and Yuki Kubota.)