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Editorial: DP leadership candidates must hold thorough debate on basic policy

  • August 27, 2016
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

Former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has announced his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP). He is up against acting leader Renho, who some observers thought would be elected without a contest. Now, it is certain there will be a vote, which is obviously favorable for the DP.


The DP was inaugurated this past spring through a merger between two opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Japan Innovation Party (JIP), but the new party has failed to hold sufficient discussions on its direction.


Current DP President Katsuya Okada has announced that he will not seek re-election. Both Maehara, a one-time DPJ leader, and Renho, who was in charge of cutting wasteful government projects in the DPJ-led administration of 2009-2012, have high name recognition. Renho, who is supportive of the current leadership’s policies and Maehara, who distances himself from the leadership, will now clash. Some other members are reportedly exploring the possibility of throwing their hats into the ring.


There are numerous issues that the party should discuss, especially as the leadership election is being held following its defeat in the July House of Councillors election. In particular, the party should decide whether to continue its joint struggle with other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).


The DP had certain achievements in upper house constituencies in which only one seat was up for grabs through its election cooperation with three other opposition parties. However, concerns persist within the DP that it will lose support from conservatives because of its cooperation with the JCP. Since the next House of Representatives election will highly likely be held under a new leader, candidates in the DP leadership race should explain specifically whether and how the party should cooperate with other opposition parties in the poll.


Renho denies that the DP will form a coalition government with the JCP, saying, “It’s impossible for us to form an administration with any party whose basic policy and platform differ significantly from ours.” Still, she stopped short of ruling out the possibility that the DP will continue election cooperation with the JCP. Since lower chamber elections determine which parties will form the next government, her logic of separating election cooperation from a specific plan to form a government is far from convincing. If she were to call her policy the “Renho line,” it could be criticized as murky.


Maehara insists that the upper and lower house elections should be regarded separately, and pointed to the need for the DP to share basic policies with other opposition parties as a precondition for forming a united front in a lower chamber race. Still, he failed to clarify his stance on how to move policy consultations with other opposition parties forward, and whether to join hands with the JCP. Therefore, policy differences between the two key candidates remain unclear.


Both candidates have clarified that they attach importance to economic and social security policies.


During the upper house race, the DP pledged to achieve both wealth distribution and economic growth, but failed to clearly show to voters how its policy differs from a virtuous cycle of economic growth and wealth distribution being pursued by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. DP leadership candidates should compete with each other by showing their future visions of the benefits from and burden of social security services.


The candidates should not ignore constitutional amendment and use of the right to collective self-defense among other issues that are related to the country’s basic policies. They should clarify their stances toward these matters which the DP’s predecessor, the DPJ, had failed to deal with.


Even if the candidates were to run in the leadership race while addressing differences over these issues, the differences would quickly surface after the election and revive an internal strife.


The candidates should hold thorough debate on these basic policy issues before the Sept. 15 vote, and all members should follow any decision made through a democratic process. The DP should firmly establish such a rule.

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