Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, an advocate of Japan acquiring nuclear weapons and a longtime critic of China, said he will resign and form a new political party ahead of an election that must be called by August.
Ishihara, 80, said at a press conference today in Tokyo that he plans to run for a parliamentary seat in the elections. He said he is interested in tying up with the minority Sunrise Party of Japan as well as Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s new Japan Restoration Party.
Re-elected head of Japan’s capital last year for a fourth term, Ishihara has called for rewriting the nation’s pacifist constitution and said last year’s record earthquake and tsunami was “divine punishment.” His proposal in April to buy an island chain also claimed by China forced Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government to purchase the territory, fanning a dispute that has hurt Asia’s two biggest economies.
“Ishihara has inflicted such damage on the national interest in the last several months,” said Jeff Kingston, a professor of Japanese politics at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “It’s been harmful to Japan’s economic interests and its security interests. The bigger parties will be leery of tying up with him.”
Sunrise Party leader Takeo Hiranuma told reporters that his party, which has two lawmakers in the 480-seat lower house of parliament and three in the 242-seat upper chamber, will disband and re-form as a new group with Ishihara as its head.
Noda is battling to revive his Democratic Party of Japan’s popularity, which has plummeted since the party took power in 2009, ousting the Liberal Democratic Party from half a century of government control. The prime minister last week failed to reach a deal with opposition leaders on legislation needed to fund this year’s budget. The LDP is pressuring him to fulfill a pledge to call elections “soon.”
The government last month reached a deal to purchase the islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese for 2.05 billion yen ($25.6 million). China denounced the move and Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. (7201) suffered their biggest one-month drop in Chinese sales since at least 2008.
Ishihara is a former LDP parliamentarian whose eldest son Nobuteru is a senior lawmaker in the party. First elected governor in 1999, he presides over Japan’s biggest metropolis, which has a population of more than 13 million and a $1.1 trillion economy that is the same size as South Korea’s.
He was re-elected in April 2011, overcoming public anger for his “divine punishment” comments. He helped assuage concerns over radiation levels in Tokyo’s water from the Fukushima nuclear crisis by drinking it in front of television cameras.
In a July 2011 interview, Ishihara said “Japan should absolutely possess nuclear weapons,” citing China and North Korea as potential threats.
In a 1990 Playboy magazine interview, Ishihara denied Japan slaughtered Chinese civilians in 1937 in Nanjing, prompting an outcry in China, which says more than 300,000 people were massacred. He co-wrote the 1989 best-seller, “The Japan That Can Say No,” which argued against dependence on the U.S.
At the age of 23 Ishihara wrote a novel that won Japan’s most prestigious literary prize. He then wrote the screenplay for the film version. He also covered the Vietnam War as a reporter, raced yachts and toured South America by motorcycle.
He was first elected to parliament in 1968 and served in two different LDP Cabinets before being elected governor as an independent.
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