Democratic Party (DP) leader Kohei Otsuka presented to a meeting of the party’s Standing Officers Council on March 29 a proposal to form a new party without specifying the partner party, obtaining approval for his plan. The DP leadership envisions retaining the party’s organizational structure, absorbing the Party of Hope, and changing the party’s name. However, antipathy toward the Party of Hope, which excluded certain DP members from its candidates in the House of Representatives election last year, remains strong in the party. Many party members also prefer cooperation with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ). Therefore, if the leadership moves ahead with forming a new party with the Party of Hope, this may cause the party to split up again.
Otsuka distributed a copy of his proposal at the meeting. The document mentions a “new middle-of-the-road party,” “forming a new Democratic Party (the DP will remain as a political party),” and “calling on like-minded comrades to come together,” but does not mention the Party of Hope.
Members of the “Group of Independents,” the DP caucus in the House of Representatives, including group leader Katsuya Okada, opposed the proposal. Okada said: “This will estrange us from the CDPJ. Now is the time for the opposition to unite and fight for the Moritomo issue. This is the wrong time.” However, more than 10 members supported the plan on the grounds that “assembling a bigger force to confront the government is a good thing,” so it was agreed that this issue should be put on the agenda of the general meeting of Diet members of both houses on March 30 and the national meeting of secretaries general on April 1.
Otsuka explained to reporters after the meeting: “The expression ‘new Democratic Party’ was in response to the opinion of lawmakers who lost in the last election and local assembly members that ‘the DP should assert itself with dignity’.”
Rengo (Japan Trade Union Confederation) is hoping that the structure of the new party can be finalized in time for the May Day rally taking place on April 28, which will also mark one year before the simultaneous local elections in spring 2019. It wants the plan to be the first step in publicity for DP candidates in the local constituencies. Rengo’s hope is also in light of the DP’s failure to form a unified Diet caucus with the Party of Hope in January.
The CDPJ is against reuniting with the DP. Its Diet Affairs Committee Chair Kiyomi Tsujimoto told reporters: “There has been talk of this time and again. We are not paying any attention.” She added: “Whether there are five or six opposition parties (cooperating in the Diet), we would like to be an opposition party that works for the people.”
There are also strong objections in the DP. The Group of Independents agreed at a meeting on March 29 that forming a new party is premature. Okada expressed concern that such a move “may end up helping the government and the ruling parties.” Toshio Ogawa, chair of the House of Councillors caucus, also stated at a news conference: “I also wonder ‘why now?’” One veteran lawmaker pointed out that, “One plus one does not necessarily equal two.” There is also a growing tendency among liberal DP Upper House members to move over to the CDPJ individually.
It is reckoned that out of the DP’s 54 Diet members, more than 20 favor cooperation with the CDPJ or the continuation of the party in its present form. A DP source observed that “the situation now is worse than when the attempt to form a joint caucus failed.”