Osaka-affiliated lawmakers expelled from the Japan Innovation Party and their associates held what they called an "extraordinary party convention" on Saturday and voted to dissolve the party.
About 230 people attended the convention at an Osaka hotel. The gathering included 20 Diet members, 12 of whom had been expelled from the party, and local assembly members of the party.
But JIP leader Yorihisa Matsuno and other lawmakers who intend to remain in the party did not approve of the convention held by those expelled. Matsuno told reporters the same day, "We can never accept [the dissolution of the party]. It's invalid."
The Osaka-affiliated members are to submit a notice of the party's dissolution to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry by the end of this month at the earliest. The ministry, however, is unlikely to accept the notice as it would not be able to judge the validity of the dissolution, a senior official of the ministry said.
"We can't take sides [between Osaka-affiliated members and the remaining JIP members]. Even if they hand in the dissolution notice, we don't have any basis for making a judgment," the official said.
The strife over the splitting of the party could inevitably result in a drop of support for "the third pole" parties with the JIP an exponent, as the party's power struggle has taken on the appearance of a mudslinging match.
The party's internal squabble caused an unusual situation as the members of its Osaka faction - who are loyal to Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto - held the "extraordinary party convention" and unilaterally dissolved the party.
"All 230 members in attendance have given approval. We hereby dissolve the party," said Hitoshi Asada, an Osaka Prefectural Assembly member, who was selected as the chairman of the convention.
Upon his declaration of the dissolution of the JIP, a storm of applause erupted.
As Matsuno and his associates had earlier registered a change to the party's seal - which is needed to be affixed to a document to complete the procedure for dissolution - it is possible the incompleteness of the convention's document will be pointed out.
Hashimoto, for his part, is aware that the dissolution will not be easily formalized. He intends to "inflame" the situation, one of his favourite tactics, an Osaka faction member said.
He aims to add momentum for the formation of a new party called Osaka Ishin no Kai - with "Osaka" written in hiragana - and the dual elections for Osaka governor and mayor scheduled for Nov. 22.
"The JIP cannot simply be called a political party any more," Hashimoto said. "We shouldn't receive taxpayers' money [as a party subsidy]."
In a separate appearance on a TV Tokyo programme on Saturday, Hashimoto hinted at the possibility of returning to the political world.
"People may say, 'It's out of the question that you - a politically dead man - plan to come back from the dead with the city of Osaka fallen into utter confusion again.' But I would say, 'Just wait,'" he said.
It is absolutely certain that the confrontation between the JIP's Osaka affiliates and other members will intensify.
JIP Secretary General Masato Imai said Saturday night that signatures and seals of former and new party leaders are required in a document about the replacement of a leader to be handed to the ministry.
Imai released a notification saying, "If [the Osaka group] uses the name of Mr. Matsuno without permission, the action will be seen as the forgery of a private document with a signature or seal."
Ahead of the provision of subsidies to political parties in December, some who intend to remain in the party reportedly are considering employing an outlandish scheme in which they form a new party and apply for subsidies afresh.
There are precedents for confusion over a split in a political party. But it is quite unprecedented that party members cause internal conflict over a seal and a bankbook to receive the subsidies.
Legal roots at centre of split
The tangled battle over the Japan Innovation Party split is partly attributed to two key persons with legal expertise - Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Kenji Eda, who both passed the bar exam.
Hashimoto is the leader of the party's Diet members based in Osaka Prefecture - while Eda, a House of Representatives policymaker who remained in the party, stands at the forefront of anti-Osaka members.
According to a source close to the party, Hashimoto and Eda "can't back down from the battle they waged, criticising each other by fully utilizing their legal knowledge."
The Osaka-based lawmakers carefully rehearsed the night before Saturday's "extraordinary party convention," so that those who remained in the JIP would not be able to press hard on any legal problems. The rehearsal was so thorough that they even confirmed all the speaker's lines for the convention.
"Procedures matter at the convention," Hashimoto was quoted by sources as saying. "Judicial decisions are based on procedure, rather than content."
Eda encouraged Matsuno and others who remained in the party, saying the JIP is "solid no matter how we're criticised by the Osaka members. We should stand by our beliefs with resolution and confidence."
Mixed personal feelings could be lingering behind the heated intraparty battle: Hashimoto believes he played a leading role in launching the JIP, so he has forced through his ideas and policies within the party at times.