(Mainichi Japan) March 5, 2012
Osaka Mayor Hashimoto's boldness and rudeness

The essence of events and their backgrounds have become increasingly indistinct, though a growing number of media outlets are showing ever-sharper images and offer more detailed commentaries on them.

This is particularly the case with the coverage of 42-year-old Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. TV stations are enthusiastic about provoking belligerent Hashimoto and air images of him in a sensational way, though they have failed to explain the background behind his remarks or judge whether his assertions are appropriate.

TV broadcasters tend to focus excessively on the roles that this "monster" mayor will play in political realignment and reform of the country, apparently out of mere curiosity, but have forgotten the most basic part of the issue: that his position derives from the autonomous choice of the people of Osaka.

Last month, Hashimoto began a survey of all municipal government workers about their union and political activities. The survey asked 22 questions, including, "Did you participate in any activity to support any particular politician?" In a high-handed manner, Hashimoto ordered all Osaka city workers to fill out the questionnaires, including their names, and submit the responses to him as part of their official duties.

Naturally, his action stirred controversy. Critics have asserted the mayor's action is a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of thought and conscience; Article 28, providing for the right of workers to organize; and Clause 3, Article 7 of the Labor Union Act, which bans employers from controlling and interfering with unions.

The Osaka Municipal Government has suspended its analysis of the questionnaire results after the Osaka Prefectural Labor Relations Commission recommended that the survey be called off.

Discussions are now going on nationwide about whether Hashimoto is a dangerous figure. However, an opinion poll by the Asahi Shimbun national daily and the Osaka-based Asahi Broadcasting Corp. while Hashimoto was implementing his questionnaire showed that his approval rating was 70 percent among prefectural residents, and 71 percent of Osaka city residents.

"If employees (the unions) have a say in the appointment of the president (mayor), administrative reform can't be carried out," Hashimoto told reporters on Jan. 6. This is why he has confronted the city worker unions. Hashimoto was elected mayor in November last year by beating an incumbent backed by Osaka city worker unions.

Workers have the right to be protected from unfair suppression by their employers. I feel odd about Hashimoto's character, which combines boldness with rudeness. I also feel disgusted by prominent figures in various circles cozying up to the mayor.

Therefore, it is important to confirm the principle that a mayor should be evaluated by the people he or she represents. In other words, residents should be responsible for electing their mayor. There is no need for people across the country to pay close attention to Hashimoto's words and deeds and make such a fuss.

The coverage of Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka's words and deeds are another example of news organizations losing sight of the essence of a politician's actions despite repeatedly splashing their images all over TVs and front pages.

Statements Tanaka has made since he assumed the post in January have revealed his ignorance on basic defense issues, such as the Self-Defense Forces' consistency with the war-renouncing Constitution and the principles of Japan's participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Moreover, he came under fire for leaving the House of Councillors Budget Committee while it was in session to have a cup of coffee, and declared in the Diet later that he was "determined not to drink coffee," astonishing the public.

There is no question that Tanaka is less than qualified to serve as defense minister at a time when North Korea's nuclear capabilities and China's military buildup pose an increasing threat to Japan. Nevertheless, he still stays in his position.

In February 1980, the defense agency chief in the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira resigned after telling a House of Representatives Budget Committee session, "Since this is an important issue, I'll have the bureau director general (who is a bureaucrat) answer your question."

The official reason for his resignation was a scandal involving agency bureaucrats. No articles directly criticizing his absurd remark can be found in newspapers from the time. In that age, TV stations did not compete by constantly replaying politicians' gaffes and making public sport of them. Still, the prime minister had the defense agency chief step down to take responsibility for his miscue.

Ironically, a national political arena that lacks boldness -- particularly the stagnant ruling Democratic Party of Japan the largest opposition Liberal Democratic Party -- is what has given rise to the Hashimoto phenomenon.  「橋下現象」は、果断さのカケラもない現在の中央政界、とりわけ民主、自民両党の停滞から生まれた皮肉だ。

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2012年3月5日 東京朝刊

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