Many voters must be surprised and disappointed at the spectacular disintegration of the Democratic Party, which ended the largest opposition party’s quest to become a viable alternative to the ruling coalition.
Yukio Edano, the party’s deputy president, on Oct. 2 announced plans to form a liberal-leaning party named Rikken Minshuto (Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan).
Edano’s group is designed as a platform to unite former Democratic Party lawmakers who won’t join Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of hope) before the Oct. 22 Lower House election.
Edano promised to adopt the Democratic Party’s basic principles and policies for the new party and seek an alliance with a broad range of citizens to stop what he describes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dangerous policy initiatives.
Meanwhile, Kibo no To has agreed with the Japan Innovation Party, headed by Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui, to avoid fielding candidates in the same constituencies.
During the less than 10 days since Abe announced his intention to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election, the political landscape has changed dramatically.
The Lower House poll is shaping up as a three-way battle among the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, the alliance between Kibo no To and the Japan Innovation Party, and the liberal camp composed of Edano’s new party, the Japanese Communist Party and other like-minded groups.
Rikken Minshuto is likely to serve as a new vehicle for the movement toward a coalition between citizens and certain opposition parties that has been gaining traction in the past several years.
As a result of this fragmentation of the opposition, however, the election will likely fail to serve as a stage for a one-on-one contest for public support between the ruling coalition and the opposition camp.
The turmoil in the opposition camp was triggered by Abe’s move to call an election that is not based on any “just cause.”
He took the action to take advantage of the lack of preparedness for an election within the opposition camp, betting that he could easily win at this time.
But the Democratic Party’s response to Abe’s move has not been driven by a just cause, either.
Seiji Maehara, the Democratic Party’s chief, sought and achieved consensus within the party on its alliance with Kibo no To on the assumption that all the candidates the party planned to endorse could join Koike’s group.
He described his decision as a pragmatic one to pursue what is really important at the expense of the survival of his embattled party.
But Koike spurned Maehara’s plan, saying, “We have absolutely no intention of accepting” all prospective Democratic Party candidates as new members of her party.
“We will reject” Democratic Party hopefuls her party sees as unsuitable for candidacy as its members, she said.
It is simply unbelievable that the heads of the two political parties have taken such wildly different stances toward the alliance they have agreed on.
Much of the blame for the Democratic Party’s debacle should rest with Maehara.
Even more baffling, however, is the attitude assumed by many former lawmakers of the Democratic Party.
Do they intend to simply acquiesce to accepting Kibo no To’s policy agenda, which is clearly different from the Democratic Party’s, in desperate attempts to be endorsed by Koike’s party?
As a condition of endorsement as its official candidates, Kibo no To plans to demand acceptance of the national security legislation enacted in 2015, which the Democratic Party has been criticizing as unconstitutional.
As for the planned consumption tax hike, Maehara won the party leadership election in September by promising to raise the levy as scheduled to secure funds to finance such welfare measures as a tuition-free education program.
But Kibo no To has pledged to freeze the tax increase.
The course of events leading to the crumbling of the Democratic Party and the party’s casual stance toward policies have underscored the willingness of many former party lawmakers to compromise their positions on key issues if necessary to win re-election.
They may say that they need to be re-elected to pursue their policy goals.
But such a stance could easily degenerate into a naked pursuit of power unless it is underpinned by a solid commitment to principles and policies.
The collapse of the Democratic Party could destroy the progress in political reform toward a viable system for regime changes that has been made in the past two decades.
The consequence could be a full-blown crisis of party politics.