Merger talks between the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) have come to a halt. It is impossible to shake the feeling that, from start to finish, this was a struggle for dominance between the two parties.
The talks had started after CDPJ leader Yukio Edano approached DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki in December. The aim was to prepare for a possible dissolution of the House of Representatives at the start of the current ordinary Diet session.
Edano, who initially was wary of such a merger, probably changed course because he could see clouds gathering over his party, the CDPJ.
During the talks, the CDPJ insisted on absorbing the DPFP and retaining its own party name. The DPFP asserted that the merged party’s name should be changed. It also demanded that appointments to key party posts should, by and large, be equal.
Neither side was willing to make concessions, so they decided to put off their integration for the time being. The likelihood of a lower house election appears to have faded, lessening the urgency to merge.
The opposition has been called “many weak parties.” It is understandable that they should seek to join forces and create an environment in which they can put up a decent fight against the powerful administration run by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
Doubts emerged due to the fact that the two parties’ talks focused heavily on issues such as how the merger would proceed, while discussions on the post-merger party’s principles and basic policies were left on the sidelines.
There are significant differences between the CDPJ and the DPFP on central policy issues, such as constitutional revision, national security and energy.
In a nationwide public opinion survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun while the merger talks were ongoing, only 25% of respondents said they had good expectations of the merger. To the public, the integration appeared to be merely an effort to build up numbers.
After the administration led by the then Democratic Party of Japan came to power in 2009, it stuck rigidly to campaign promises that were scarcely feasible and repeatedly strayed off course. The fragility of the hodgepodge of groups making up the DPJ was exposed, and the party’s management of its administration became bogged down.
Since the DPJ fell from power in 2012, forces within the party have gone through a flurry of splits and mergers. And now it seems the CDPJ and the DPFP are groping for a merger.
The public’s sense of disappointment with that DPJ-led government remains strong. If the existing opposition parties hastily pool their forces with an eye on gaining an advantage in an upcoming election, and if this is seen only as the parties getting back together again, public support for them will not grow.
The CDPJ and the DPFP plan to strengthen their activities in both Diet chambers in an alliance they formed last autumn.
As Japan’s population declines and society grays amid a chronically low birthrate, what kind of nation do the opposition political parties want to build? They should clarify their vision of the nation they aspire to achieve, their policy schedule and where funds for these policies would come from, and then debate these issues with the government and ruling parties.
It will be important to beef up their regional organizations and shore up their foundations. They also must strengthen their policy coordination and decision-making processes, and make arrangements fit for taking the reins of government.
If the opposition parties continue floundering as they are, the political world will lack a healthy sense of tension. The opposition parties must take their responsibilities to heart.