The Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) are engaged in a tug-of-war to claim the status of number one opposition party in the House of Councillors. The DPFP has 24 members in its floor group, while the CDPJ has 23, so the two parties are practically equal in strength. Their heated rivalry for dominance is likely to intensify ahead of the extraordinary Diet session to be convened in late October.
Kohei Otsuka, head of the DPFP caucus in the Upper House, told reporters after a general meeting of the party’s Upper House members on Sept. 25: “The extraordinary Diet session will be a very important occasion to make the party’s presence felt. We will work for increasing the membership of our floor group as much as possible.”
However, with the party suffering from low support rating, the DPFP is far from increasing its membership and is even at risk of losing more members. Since the defection of even one member will mean the party losing its status as number one opposition party in the Upper House, it is taking desperate measures to retain members, such as by giving them important jobs in the party.
The general meeting on Sept. 25 decided to elect the chair of the Upper House caucus by mid-October. Otsuka is widely seen to keep his job for the sake of preparing the party as soon as possible for the simultaneous local elections and Upper House election next year.
The DPFP adopted a “problem resolution” [rather than outright opposition] policy in the previous regular Diet session. It voted with the ruling parties on the appendices to the work-style reform bills in the Upper House, thus widening its gap with the CDPJ, which opposed the bills. If Otsuka keeps his job, the possibility remains that the DPFP may take a flexible approach to the ruling parties’ proposals.
On the other hand, the CDPJ, which is the number one opposition party in the House of Representatives, consistently adheres to a “resistance” policy. It is recruiting DPFP and independent Upper House members in its drive to become the dominant opposition party in the Upper House.
During his dinner with Liberal Party co-leader Ichiro Ozawa, Social Democratic Party leader Seiji Mataichi, and others in July, CDPJ leader Yukio Edano indicated that he was “confident” about replacing the DPFP as the number one opposition party in the Upper House. According to a source who was present at the dinner, Edano and CDPJ Secretary General Tetsuro Fukuyama exchanged notes right then and there on the names of potential DPFP defectors.
Poaching efforts have actually begun. A DPFP Upper House member who is up for reelection next year reveals that, “A senior CDPJ official told me that if you think of the election, it is better to join our party.”
The CDPJ is also making all-out efforts to expand its force in the Lower House. On Sept. 25, Manabu Terata (fifth term, elected as Tohoku bloc proportional representation candidate), an independent, joined the CDPJ floor group in the Lower House. Junya Ogawa, another independent, also joined the CDPJ floor group on Sept. 10.
A senior DPFP official stresses that, “There is no future in continuing with a storm in the teacup. Our enemy is the Abe administration.” The intensification of the rivalry between the CDPJ and the DPFP may render the call for an “opposition united front” ending up as an empty slogan.