A broad political alliance is a natural strategic choice for small and weak opposition parties that have little chance of holding their own against a dominant ruling camp unless they join forces and pool their political capital.
The agreement between Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), and Yuichiro Tamaki, chief of the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), to form a unified bloc in both houses of the Diet prior to the autumn Diet session should be a first step toward healthy tensions in the nation’s politics.
The Lower House group known as the Reviewing Group on Social Security Policy, led by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, will also join the new bloc in the Lower House.
A unified voting block composed of all the members of the three groups would control 117 Lower House seats, making it the largest opposition grouping since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power at the end of 2012.
Although it nearly won almost double the number of its seats contested in the July Upper House election, the CDP saw the number of votes it gained through the proportional representation constituency fall by more than 3 million from the Lower House election two years ago.
Edano has stuck to a go-it-alone strategy, saying that the CDP would not join any move simply designed to create a larger bloc in terms of numbers without reaching an agreement on key policy positions. His strategic about-face apparently reflects his deep concern about waning public support for the party.
But the enfeebled opposition parties created through the split-up of the Democratic Party of Japan, which governed the nation from 2009 to 2012, cannot generate the political force needed to challenge the powerful ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, by simply coming together again.
They need to prove their potential to become a serious challenger to the ruling coalition led by Abe, who has secured overwhelming political power, by demonstrating the strong political will and convincing ability to carry out plans needed to bring changes to politics.
There have been many clear signs of arrogance and lax discipline within the Abe administration, which has ruled the nation for more than six and a half years. The administration has also shown disregard for the legislature through its high-handed way of handling Diet affairs and scandals concerning the concealment and falsification of official documents.
There has been no progress toward clearing the facts about the serious political scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution, two school operators directly or indirectly linked to Abe.
The administration has tried to avoid Diet debate on sensitive issues as much as possible and ignored an opposition request for Budget Committee meetings during this year’s regular Diet session prior to the Upper House election.
Both Edano and Tamaki cited the need for opposition parties to serve as the principal government watchdog as the primary objective in forming a unified group. That is a logical starting point for effective opposition cooperation.
As their first united action, the three groups should use their combined political clout to demand that an extraordinary Diet session be convened early in a move based on a constitutional provision.
But there are some major disagreements between the CDP and the DPP over key policy issues, including whether nuclear power generation should be phased out and constitutional amendments.
But the two parties have decided to join hands with their top priority on creating a “large lump” of political power, Tamaki said.
The agreement reached by the two parties is vague about their different positions on policy issues, saying that they will respect each other’s positions in line with the fact that they are different parties.
Even if they do not need to agree on all policy issues, the two parties could end up deeply disappointing the public if they show disaccord with regard to important issues.
If they intend to pursue cooperation for the next Lower House election, they cannot afford to postpone serious efforts to coordinate their policies for long.
The new Reiwa Shinsengumi party won two seats in the Upper House poll by garnering more than 2.2 million proportional representation votes.
The larger opposition parties should learn lessons from Reiwa Shinsengumi’s unexpectedly strong performance for their future by analyzing the factors that supported the newbie party’s appeal to voters.
The first major test for political viability of the CDP-DPP alliance will be if it can make concrete achievements as a government watchdog during the extraordinary Diet session and convince the voting public that an opposition resurgence is in the making.
It will be a make-or-break political challenge for the two opposition parties and their new alliance.