(Mainichi: February 19, 2015 – p. 5)
Katsuya Okada, president of the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, marked yesterday one month since he took his current post. He has established a united party structure by appointing Goshi Hosono and Akira Nagatsuma, who were rival candidates in the DPJ presidential race, as policy chief and acting president, respectively. At the diet he drew a clear distinction between his party and the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, highlighting the issue of economic disparity. However, there are many difficult issues to address, including the unified local elections and debate on security legislation. Although Okada has performed the role of DPJ president without a hitch, the future of the largest opposition party seems unclear.
The DPJ and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) held a regular meeting on Feb. 18 in Tokyo. During the meeting, Rengo President Nobuaki Koga called on Okada to hasten the revitalization of the DPJ, but Okada remained cautious in his remarks.
Koga: “How will you regain public trust? I want you to accelerate (moves toward that end).”
Okada: “The situation is not that easy. My mission is to make the DPJ a party that can once again compete for power with the Liberal Democratic Party.”
According to the results of nationwide opinion polls conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, support rates for the DPJ have remained in single digits since December 2012 when it fell into the opposition. Needless to say, it is difficult to regain public opinion just because party heads were replaced. Okada plans to draw up a “300-day plan,” a roadmap for party reform, at the party headquarters for reform and revitalization, which is chaired by Okada. He will work on revitalizing the party from mid- to long-term perspectives.
At a Diet interpellation on Feb. 16, nine of the 25 questions made by Okada were about the economic disparities in society. Apparently Okada is trying to clarify his differences in economic policy with the Abe administration.
Yet the Okada-led DPJ executives will be looked toward to bring party members together in campaigning for unified local elections. If the DPJ is defeated in the elections, the party’s image will drop further. This might have a negative impact on the House of Councillors election next year. In the upcoming unified local elections 324 prefectural assembly seats will be contested. However, the DPJ has fielded 343 candidates thus far. So it would seem the party has its hands full just maintaining the status quo.
In order to compete with the “dominance” of the LDP, opposition parties are trying to form a united front, but many challenges exist. At a press conference on Feb. 18, Japan Innovation Party Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Nobuyuki Baba said: “At the current Diet session, our party will take a stance as a reform party that is neither the LDP nor the DPJ. We are not mulling role-sharing of questions with the DPJ,” indicating that the JIP is cautious about cooperation with the DPJ at House of Representatives Budget Committee sessions to start on Feb. 19. With the unified local elections drawing closer, opposition parties are gradually leaning toward playing up their own political identities rather than joining hands together.
At the Lower House plenary session on Feb. 16, Abe offered words of encouragement to Okada by saying, “I hope you will fulfill your leadership role so that we will be able to hold constructive debate at the Diet.” (Slightly abridged)