The new opposition party to be born through a merger will face a critical test of attracting voters disillusioned with the Abe administration but unconvinced of the opposition camp’s ability to govern.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) with 89 Diet members and the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) with 62 Diet members have formally agreed to merge to form a new party after months of talks burdened by politically sensitive issues.
The two parties have decided to disband themselves to create a new party. While some DPP members, including party leader Yuichiro Tamaki, will not join, the new grouping, including independents, will have around 150 lawmakers.
But the move has inevitably come across as a mere reunification of former members of the now-defunct Democratic Party (Minshinto), which disintegrated just before the previous Lower House election in 2017.
The Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto), the forerunner of the Minshinto, unseated the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from power in 2009 on the back of massive public support. But the party collapsed due to its ill-conceived, misguided attempts to wrest control of policymaking from bureaucrats and constant infighting.
The envisioned new opposition group will undoubtedly face an uphill battle in its efforts to regain public trust.
The draft platform for the new party pledges to pursue “democratic politics that places importance on constitutionalism and mature, meticulous debate” as its primary political principle.
The key policy goals cited by the document include achieving gender equality, building a society without nuclear power generation, eliminating economic disparities, pursuing a healthy Japan-U.S. security alliance and “open national interests” and ensuring effective management of official documents and adequate information disclosure.
These promises as a whole can be a powerful alternative to the agenda of the ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner, Komeito.
The challenge for the new party will be translating these policy principles and planks into specific proposals and crafting doable plans to achieve them.
The platform has been drafted in two weeks by the secretary-generals and policy chiefs of the two parties. Some DPP members who represent industry-specific labor unions like the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Workers Unions of Japan are vehemently opposed to the proposal to phase out nuclear power generation.
If the leaders of the two parties in the rush to strike a merger deal failed to make sufficient efforts to build a solid consensus among members on key policy issues and left room for future discord, they have simply put the political cart before the horse.
It also seems that the party executives have postponed offering detailed explanations about the merger blueprint to local assembly and card-carrying members of the parties.
The CDP, which first proposed the integration of the two parties, has pledged to extricate itself from the culture of marriage of convenience in Nagatacho, Japan’s political power center, and pursue “bottom-up” politics with the top priority on the views and opinions at the grassroots.
The leaders of the two parties say the process of selecting the chief and the name of the new party for the inaugural party convention will involve only Diet members. But they should realize the importance of heeding the thoughts of people involved in daily front-line political activities for enhancing the foundation of the organization.
The DPP members who will not join the new grouping, including party head Tamaki, are expected to form their own new party. But they should still remain in the opposition alliance for joint actions in the Diet and cooperation for the upcoming Lower House election.
The Abe administration, which has long been in power thanks to the political dominance of the ruling coalition, has been showing clear and disturbing signs of arrogance and lax discipline. There has been no serious effort by the administration to clean up its house.
The administration has also continued avoiding serious debate on sensitive political issues and showing disregard for the importance of the Diet.
The administration has kept ignoring an opposition request for an extraordinary Diet session based on a constitutional provision. It has made a series of policy blunders and debacles including those related to the new coronavirus pandemic.
If the opposition bloc at this crucial moment fails to perform its role as the watchdog of the executive branch and offer a viable alternative to the LDP-Komeito government, the public will remain distrustful of politics.
The new party should take on this heavy duty and demonstrate the political relevance of the merger through specific actions.