TOKYO — Upper house lawmakers from Japan’s Democratic Party are already devising plans to bring their fractured party back together after the Oct. 22 general election, throwing a wrench into its leader’s plan to join an upstart led by the Tokyo governor.
The trouble began when party chief Seiji Maehara announced plans to effectively merge his party with Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, for the upcoming general election. This split lower house Democrats into three camps: candidates running under the Party of Hope’s banner, those running as independents, and liberal-leaning members who instead launched a new party called the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Maehara’s decision did not immediately impact Democrats in the Diet’s upper house or in regional assemblies, though he did plan for the upper house caucus to join Hope as well following the election. But there has been growing resistance to this plan as Hope struggled to find a national foothold.
“Based on my conversations with upper house members, many of us do not plan to join” the Party of Hope, Toshio Ogawa, who chairs the upper house Democratic caucus, told reporters on Friday.
“About half of us definitely will not,” he said.
He added that Maehara, who is now running as an independent for a seat in the lower house, “should become part of the Party of Hope” so the remaining Democratic Party members can choose a new leader.
“The Party of Hope and the Constitutional Democrats are still new and don’t have an established organization,” he said. “It would be best for the Democratic Party to serve as a home base” for current and former Democrats.
Ogawa’s comments reflect the reservations among upper house Democrats, who disagree with Koike’s more conservative stance on national security and other topics. Some are also worried that the party’s funds, which total more than 10 billion yen ($89.3 million), will end up in the Party of Hope’s hands.
One possibility is bringing the 20 or so running as independents back into the party’s fold. Another is a partnership with the Constitutional Democrats.
“I hope that we will be able to take part in many partnerships,” Constitutional Democrat chief Yukio Edano said in a TV appearance on Thursday. But he stressed that “while it is important for us to work with upper house Democrats, we need to first think about our party banner.”
The upper house Democrats are also far from united themselves. “Ogawa’s comments went too far,” one said. “We will discuss our future plans with Mr. Maehara and the independents.”
Labor organizations under the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, which is known as Rengo and is a key supporter of the Democratic Party, are divided, throwing doubt on whether the party’s conservative and liberal factions can reach a consensus. It is also unclear how Maehara will react if many upper house Democrats refuse to join the Party of Hope.
“We don’t know if all lawmakers can come together behind a response,” a party official said. “It all depends on the outcome of the general election.”
Meanwhile, Koike on Friday slammed the attempts to reunite the Democratic Party. “It’s obvious they are looking toward the upper house election, which will come next,” she said. “The voters are watching. This will only fuel distrust in politics.”