Japanese opposition splits, as merger move fails on thorny Constitution issue

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Japan's second-largest opposition party the Japan Restoration Party will split in two as its two leaders are at odds about the party's merger with the Unity Party (Yui no To), a top spokesperson said Wednesday.

According to Yorihisa Matsuno, parliamentary leader of the Japan Restoration Party (JRP), its two co-leaders agreed the party should be split, with leader Toru Hashimoto, who doubles as Osaka' s mayor and his co-leader Shintaro Ishihara, a former Tokyo governor, having contradicted views about the Unity Party's political policies.

Hashimoto has been an advocate of his party's merger with the Unity Party, also an opposition party, as part of a broader realignment of the opposition camp, which observers say has become toothless in the face of the domineering ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Ishihara, an outspoken staunch nationalist, however, saw the potential merger of JRP as a means of putting more political weight behind his notions of creating a new national Constitution to replace Japan's current, long-standing pacifist Constitution.

But the Unity Party members, specifically its leader Kenji Eda, have been pushing for a united policy platform that seeks constitutional revision, rather than wholesale change, and negotiations brokered by Hashimoto failed to resolve the issue resulting in the Osaka mayor and Ishihara agreeing to the split.

Eda, for his part, believes that if there is a broad realignment of opposition parties that also involves the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, then other parties will opt not to support the JRP-Unity Party stance based on their reluctance to establish a new Constitution and ditch the current one.

Matsuno told a press briefing in Tokyo that Hashimoto had confirmed the spilt via phone, but that Ishihara had been unavailable for comment, but would hold a press conference Thursday.

Matsuno said the news of the spilt was "regrettable."

A merger between the JRP' 53 Diet members and Unity Party's nine, could have potentially made it the largest opposition force in the lower house of parliament, as the Democratic Party of Japan currently has 56 lower house members. Endi

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