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Leading DPJ conservatives on politics, security, constitution, opposition realignment

(Nikkei: January 24, 2016 – p. 12)


 By Ryo Iizuka, Shotaro Miyazaka, Tsuyoshi Nagasawa


 Since its predecessor was founded in 1996, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has attracted members from a broad spectrum of political parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the former Democratic Socialist Party, and the former Japan Socialist Party under the slogan of “overthrowing LDP politics.” For this reason, it has been called a “hotchpotch of different factions” with ambiguous basic policies, such as that on security and the Constitution. Currently, most of its Diet members are politicians who started their careers after the present party was founded in 1998. The party now has a political platform, but policy differences still emerge frequently.


 The DPJ leadership under Katsuya Okada has entered its second year. It is focusing on repealing the security laws in the run-up to the House of Councillors election this summer. Secretary General Yukio Edano and other forces close to the liberals have a strong presence in the party. This group is negative about disbanding the party to form a new party or changing the party’s name in the process of realigning the opposition forces. On the other hand, the conservatives advocate presenting counterproposals with regard to security policy and support forming a new party in the realignment process.


 Opinions are mixed in the DPJ on the issue of realignment. Vice President Akihiro Ohata, a neutral on this issue, and his colleagues in the Soko-kai are now leaning toward uniting the opposition forces, with the founding of a new party as one of the options. On the other hand, even some conservatives, such as the Kasai-kai led by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, are negative about the idea of a new party or merger with the Japan Innovation Party (JIP).


 With the balance of power between the ruling and opposition parties overwhelmingly in favor of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the DPJ remains unable to extricate itself from its adverse situation. What do the conservatives, who advocate a pragmatic line in foreign and security policy, think with regard to shifting to a confrontational approach to the administration by underscoring policy differences? We asked the leading conservatives, former DPJ leader Seiji Maehara, Policy Research Committee chair Goshi Hosono, and former State Minister of Defense Akihisa Nagashima to engage in a trialogue.


 Q: What do you think of the position of the conservatives in the DPJ?


 Maehara: When we think of what is the right way for the DPJ, we need to clearly demonstrate that we are different from the government and the ruling parties in domestic policy. There is no need for significant differences in foreign and security policy. This should be considered in terms of pragmatic responses. We must not oppose everything. If we have objections, we need to come up with counterproposals. It is important for us to maintain our dignity as a responsible political party.


 Nagashima: The era of talking about foreign policy and security in ideological terms has ended. We can have 80% similar policies and only 20% differences in nuances and approach. The important thing is to be always prepared to take over the administration when one of the two major conservative parties is bogged down by institutional fatigue. The LDP is the ruling conservative force, while we are the challenging reformist conservative force.


 Q: Do you oppose constitutional revision?


 Hosono: The paradigm of constitutional revision opponents versus its proponents became obsolete about 20 years ago. Revisions should be made for issues on which there is a national consensus.


 Nagashima: I am for constitutional amendment. Differences will emerge with regard to which provisions to revise and how to do so.


 Maehara: The DPJ is not obstinately against revision, so a consensus will emerge if we engage in discussions. Prime Minister Abe talks about constitutional revision in the context of a political tactic to divide the opposition parties. This issue is not a point of contention in the election. This debate will need to take place over several years.


 Q: What do you think of the idea of merging with the JIP, which would be a first step in the realignment of opposition forces before the Upper House election this summer?


 Hosono: It is better to form a proper new party to unite the opposition forces. Realism should also go into the slogan on security if possible. The alliance should be as broad as possible, except for the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).


 Maehara: It is better to dismantle the DPJ first. Takeovers and mergers may be perceived as an election tactic. The important thing is to demonstrate how we intend to challenge the LDP-Komeito administration. It will be desirable to embrace other groups and independents to form a grand coalition. The DPJ should not be divided. What is important is to launch a new party before the Upper House election.


 Nagashima: The people will not approve of the present DPJ simply expanding and taking in former DPJ members.


 Q: Is the Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai) a possible partner in the realignment of opposition forces?


 Nagashima: Rather than joining hands with the JCP, I think it is more sensible to work with the opposition parties, including Osaka Ishin, to submit joint proposals for constitutional revisions to enable full decentralization of power. Decentralization of power is one of the DPJ’s basic policies and a major issue in the realignment of opposition forces. Osaka Ishin is a party that aspires for reform. There is no reason why we should drive them to the side of the administration.


 Maehara: This will not be possible to achieve before the Upper House election. They are also saying they will take sides on a case-by-case basis. I think they will change their position when the Abe administration begins to go downhill. I would like to think of them as a future partner.


 Hosono: This will be difficult to do in the short-term. The opposition is on the brink of whether they can survive in the coming Upper House election. Simultaneous Lower and Upper House elections may also take place. If the opposition forces break up at this point, the paradigm for a change of administration will no longer exist for some time. This year is an important year for safeguarding this framework.


 Q: Are you opposed to election cooperation with the JCP?


 Hosono: Even the party leader, Mr. Okada, has not used the term “election cooperation” in reference to the JCP. This is because their goal for Japan as a society and as a state is different from ours.


 Nagashima: This is absolutely out of the question.


 Q: How are prospects for forming a new party before the Upper House election?


 Maehara: Ultimately, it will be Mr. Okada’s decision. I believe he is indeed thinking of how to change the status quo. We trust him and we will support his efforts to form a grand coalition of opposition parties sharing the same political principles.


 Hosono: I agree. It will depend on whether we all share a sense of urgency.


 Nagashima: I doubt very much if the present leadership will form a new party. I would like to think they will, but we really need to prod them a lot from below.


 Q: The DPJ has always been seen as a hotchpotch of various factions, so it’s very difficult to reach consensus on policy.


 Nagashima: Prime Minister Abe has moved to the extreme right, so the middle field is unoccupied. Even though the DPJ should be involved in discussions acceptable to the silent majority, it is actually veering sharply to the left and neglecting the middle field.


 Maehara: A centrifugal force always works on an opposition party. We must reflect on the fact that we behaved in the same way when we were the ruling party. The issue is how to improve governance in the party. While we can debate and talk as much as we want, we need to converge in the end.


 Q: Will bolting the party be an option?


 Nagashima: Mr. Takeaki Matsumoto’s departure from the party came as a real shock. I have always thought that we must form an alliance of opposition forces that people like Mr. Matsumoto would never think of leaving. It will not be acceptable to the people if we do not show that all Diet members are united for a single cause.


 Q: Is it conceivable for a conservative party to be supported by labor unions?


 Maehara: The DPJ is not just about labor unions. For sure, the labor unions are powerful supporters and it is important to practice politics from the workers’ standpoint. (When I was party leader) 10 years ago, I advocated breaking away from reliance on labor unions. My thinking remains unchanged. A political party that relies solely on labor unions cannot possibly become the counterforce in a system of two major conservative parties. We must not be totally dependent. (Slightly abridged)

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