Democratic Party (DP) leader Katsuya Okada (elected from the House of Representatives third district of Mie) has created a stir for stating on June 26 that he will not run for reelection as party leader if the DP candidate loses in the House of Councillors Mie electoral district. Party members are critical of his “incoherence and elusiveness” in leaving his responsibility for the entire Upper House election ambiguous while staking his job on one specific constituency.
Okada stated again in a campaign speech in Gojo City, Nara Prefecture on June 27 that “as a native of Mie, I would feel responsible if [the candidate in Mie] loses.” He reiterated that if the DP candidate in the Mie district is defeated, he will not run in the DP leadership election in September.
It is believed that Okada’s remarks were meant to brace up his home constituency. The Mie electoral district is known as a traditional stronghold of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the DP’s predecessor. However, a veteran DPJ lawmaker was defeated by a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rookie in the 2013 Upper House election. Yomiuri Shimbun’s survey of the initial stage of the current campaign also showed that the DP and LDP candidates were running neck-and-neck. Okada’s staking his job on the outcome in this district is probably the reflection of his sense of crisis that “if the DP loses Mie, the party will also suffer a crushing defeat in the overall Upper House election,” according to a senior DP official.
On the other hand, Okada is leaving his responsibility for the entire election ambiguous. The four opposition parties have set the goal of stopping the ruling parties from winning a majority of the seats being contested (61). However, Okada is only saying that he is “taking full responsibility” if this goal is not achieved. He has also remained silent on the party’s own target number of seats. Therefore, there is skepticism in the party that he intends to remain as party leader as long as the Mie candidate wins, even if the goal of stopping the ruling bloc from winning a majority is not achieved, according to a junior member.
In light of the DP’s low support rating, it is widely reckoned that it will not be easy for the party to keep the 45 seats up for election that it currently holds. Okada’s aides consider “around 30 seats” – the median between the DPJ’s 17 seats in the last election and the 45 seats being contested – as the party’s target. However, with the opposition parties fielding a common candidate in the single-seat districts and the DP refraining from fielding its official candidates in 17 of these districts, it is indeed difficult for the DP to set its own target.
Meanwhile, the ruling parties are attacking Okada for his ambiguity. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroshige Seko stated at a news conference on June 27 that “he should set his party’s target first, before staking his job on the election result in his home constituency.”
LDP Lower House member Shinjiro Koizumi also asserted in a street corner speech in Aomori City that “a party leader should be thinking about the whole country. Political stability is impossible with an opposition party like that.”