Photo/Illutration Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, head of Osaka Ishin no Kai, speaks about harassment allegations against a party member in late May. (Takashi Yoshikawa)

Scandals have knocked the wind out of the sails of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), the opposition force that was flying high following its success in the April unified local and by-elections.

A party candidate won a Lower House seat in Wakayama Prefecture, long a stronghold of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Another Nippon Ishin candidate became Nara governor, the party’s first governor’s post outside of its stronghold of Osaka.

Regional affiliate Osaka Ishin no Kai also won majorities in both the Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies.

With a fourfold increase in local assembly seats in other parts of Japan, Nippon Ishin was gearing up to replace the hapless Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as the main opposition party in the next national election.

But Nippon Ishin is now scrambling to prevent fallout from sexual harassment and other scandals while pressing for discipline among its ranks.

Party leaders had dithered on taking disciplinary action against Osamu Sasagawa, who was heading Osaka Ishin no Kai’s caucus in the Osaka prefectural assembly when he was accused in a May 17 online weekly magazine article of harassing a female member of the party’s Osaka municipal assembly in 2015.

Some said the reason for the lack of immediate action was that Sasagawa, 42, won his first term to the Osaka prefectural assembly in the 2011 election, the same one in which Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, head of Osaka Ishin no Kai, won his first term to the Osaka prefectural assembly.

Sasagawa was allowed to remain in his caucus post until another report emerged on May 22 about him making sexual advances toward the same female municipal assembly member.

He resigned as head of the caucus on the same day and was expelled from the local party on June 3.

Osaka Ishin no Kai held a harassment study session at party headquarters for the first time on June 5. It also conducted a survey of all members about other harassment cases.

Sources said a number of members reported that they have been victims of harassment.

Amid those moves, it also emerged that another Osaka prefectural assembly member, Kazumasa Hashimoto, had failed to properly submit political fund reports for two years.

He was expelled from the local party at the same time as Sasagawa.

The recent election success of Nippon Ishin means that many rookie candidates have won seats around Japan.

The party held a study session in mid-May for new assembly members about maintaining discipline.

The message apparently did not get through to an Iizuka municipal assembly member in Fukuoka Prefecture who won his first seat in April.

He made an inappropriate statement during an assembly session in late May, leading the assembly to post an apology on its website.

(This article was written by Takashi Yoshikawa, Juntaro Oka and Amane Sugawara.)