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SDP to decide on merger with DP next week

  • May 13, 2016
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
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The Social Democratic Party (SDP) has begun coordination on the idea of merging with the Democratic Party (DP). Since the party reckons that it will be difficult for it to compete in the House of Councillors election in July alone, it is trying to resolve the situation by agreeing to join the opposition united front. The wishes of labor unions supporting the party, which favor the SDP’s merger with the DP, are also a factor. However, there is still persistent resistance to the idea of putting an end to the party’s 70-year history, including the period when it was called the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). The SDP plans to reach a decision next week, but there is a possibility that the coordination process will run into trouble.


Party leader Tadatomo Yoshida is the main advocate of the merger. He made this proposal toward the end of an hour-long discussion in the party’s executive meeting on its strategy for the Upper House election held at the SDP headquarters on the morning of May 12.


The SDP has been in the doldrums for years. After the party changed to its current name in 1998, it was able to win 4 million votes for its proportional representation ticket in the Upper House election. But in 2013, it won only 1.25 million votes, which translated into one seat in the Upper House. There is a consensus in the party that they should join the opposition’s united front in the Upper House election in 2016 to break away from this trend of decline.


Secretary General Seiji Mataichi and other officials are also pushing for a unified opposition proportional representation ticket, but the DP, which leads the opposition united front, has already rejected this idea.


A proposal to join the new political organization launched by Keio University Professor Emeritus Setsu Kobayashi, who asserted that the security laws are unconstitutional, was also discussed. The SDP will make a decision on its Upper House election strategy next week, in order to have enough time to prepare for the election.


Yoshida has already called up DP leader Katsuya Okada to sound out the idea of a merger. He told reporters on May 12 that he will meet with Okada “when the conditions are right.”


The wishes of labor unions supporting the SDP are another reason Yoshida is considering merging with the DP. The Jichiro (All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union), one of the major labor unions of government employees, has supported the old Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the SDP in past national elections. Senior Jichiro officials had once urged the SDP to join the merger between the DPJ and the Japan Innovation Party. An official of another labor union notes, “It will be easier for us to get organized to support a single group and this will also enhance our ability to gather votes.”


Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the umbrella labor organization to which Jichiro is affiliated, is the DP’s main support group. Rengo Chairman Rikio Kozu told Nihon Keizai Shimbun that he welcomes the merger plan because “it is desirable to strengthen the opposition’s political base.”


However, there is also a strong attachment among party members to the SDP, whose history dates back to the time of the old JSP.


Meanwhile, the DP decided at an executive meeting on May 12 to take a wait-and-see approach to discussions in the SDP. The SDP has traditional vote-gathering ability in certain constituencies in Kyushu and Shikoku where the DP has had a weak political base since the time of the DPJ, such as Oita Prefecture, the home constituency of former SDP Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. The party is also hoping that the merger will move the DP-led realignment of opposition parties to the next stage.


However, deputy leader Renho stated curtly at a news conference on May 12 that “this should be premised on agreement on policies.” The SDP under Mizuho Fukushima once bolted the coalition government with the DPJ in May 2010 on account of its opposition to the Japan-U.S. agreement on the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko.


The SDP is also openly opposed to the TPP and constitutional revision. The DP is having difficulty taking a stand on these two issues because they are supported by certain conservative DP members. Conservative Diet members are concerned that taking in the SDP may result in an increase in the liberal forces. (Slightly abridged)

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