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Opposition Democrats seek merger with Tokyo gov’s party

TOKYO — The leader of the Democratic Party met with Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike Tuesday night to discuss a possible merger with her new national party, aiming to assemble a political force that can take on the dominant ruling party.

 

Seiji Maehara is looking at a broad opposition realignment that could also include Ichiro Ozawa’s Liberal Party. Koike just launched Kibo no To, or the “Party of Hope,” ahead of the general election expected for Oct. 22.

 

Prior to the meeting with Koike, Maehara spoke with Rikio Kozu — president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, the country’s largest labor organization and the Democrats’ biggest backer — to inform him of his intention to pursue an alliance with Kibo no To.

 

Maehara told the Democratic Party’s senior leaders that he hopes to make a decision soon, warning that there is no time to lose. “I’ll do whatever it takes to end” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, he declared.

 

The Democratic leader also made the case for realignment in a meeting Tuesday with Ozawa, a longtime advocate for a united front against the Abe government. As Maehara sees it, a unified opposition aligned with “reformist conservative” Koike — and excluding the left-wing Japanese Communist Party — could channel sentiment against Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, potentially paving the way for a change of power.

 

Any merger between parties would need to be at least partly hashed out before Abe dissolves the Diet’s lower house at the start of the extraordinary session convening Thursday. Negotiations are going down to the wire.

 

But the actual prospects of such a move remain uncertain. Koike has indicated that she is uninterested in an alliance with the Democratic Party as a whole, pointing to the party’s liberal contingent. A Kibo no To insider insisted that integration must involve Democrats defecting to the new party.

 

“It depends on whether Maehara can push out the left wing,” another Kibo no To source said.

 

Meanwhile, many Democrats are averse to teaming up with Koike and Ozawa. If Maehara pushes ahead with a merger, he may run the risk of provoking a rupture within the party.

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