(Asahi: February 18, 2016 – p. 1)
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader Katsuya Okada has decided to postpone the party’s merger with the Japan Innovation Party (JIP) to after the House of Councillors election this summer. He made this decision after meeting with Secretary General Yukio Edano on Feb. 16. He will explain this decision to the party shortly and call on the JIP to set up a “preparatory council for the new party” (tentative name) to continue discussions between the two parties on the merger. The key issue from now on will be how far the opposition parties, including the DPJ and the JIP, can cooperate in the Upper House election.
Okada had said in January that if the two parties were to merge before the Upper House election, a decision would have to be made not later than end of March. According to several DPJ sources, the decision to postpone was made in light of the expected confusion in its main support group, Rengo (Japan Trade Union Confederation), and local party chapters that will result from an early merger. When this decision was conveyed to a senior Rengo official, he accepted and noted that “then there will be no disbanding or splitting of the party (before the Upper House election).”
The DPJ (with 131 members in both houses of the Diet) and the JIP (with 26 Diet members) formed a joint floor group in the House of Representatives last December. They have been discussing the two parties’ merger before the Upper House election. While the JIP demands that both parties disband to make way for an entirely new party, the DPJ opts for a merger by incorporating the smaller JIP because “there will not be enough time to prepare for the election.”
The fact that the DPJ has not been able to come up with a concrete strategy for uniting the opposition forces is also a factor behind the decision to put off the merger.
Okada and the DPJ leadership intend to maintain the joint floor group with the JIP and continue talks on the merger. However, the JIP asserts that “if there is no merger before the Upper House election, the joint floor group will also be dissolved.” It is expected to react strongly to the DPJ’s decision. Within the DPJ itself, former leader Seiji Maehara and others have also advocated the disbanding of the party to form a new party. Rough sailing is expected in the consensus building process. (Slightly abridged)