On July 15, Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) leader Tamaki Yuichiro attended a meeting of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo)’s Central Executive Committee at the Zendentsu Worker’s Assembly Building to sign a policy agreement for the upcoming Lower House election.
Tamaki persisted in including the phrase “eliminate totalitarianism on the right and left.” He wanted to include the message that “communism and the communist party is leftist totalitarianism,” and later said so in public.
Tamaki was also particular about the way in which the agreement was reached. Rengo wanted a three-party agreement that included the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), but the DPFP rejected the idea. The DPFP was wary of the CDPJ’s inclination to cooperate with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).
Rengo Chairperson Kozu Rikio signed separate agreements with Tamaki and CDPJ representative Edano Yukio.
Since Tamaki was elected to the Lower House from the former Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2008, he has consistently aligned himself with non-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) forces. Tamaki’s background would not be out of place in the LDP.
Born in Sangawa (now Sanuki City), Kagawa Prefecture, Tamaki’s father was an LDP member who made his living in agriculture. Tamaki entered the Finance Ministry in 1993 and served as secretary to three ministers for administrative reform, including Ishihara Nobuteru.
The LDP approached Tamaki about running for a Lower House seat. But because the LDP offered an electoral district in the Tokyo metropolitan area, Tamaki refused. He was insistent on running from his hometown. At the time, there was an LDP incumbent in Kagawa’s second district, which included Sangawa.
When he first won a seat in the 2009 Lower House election, Tamaki relied on the “Ohira family.” Former Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi’s electoral district was part of the second Kagawa district.
Tamaki gained the support of former transportation minister Morita Hajime, Ohira’s successor and son-in-law. Tamaki’s office telephone number at the Diet members’ building is the same one that Ohira and Morita used.
Tamaki was re-elected in the 2012 Lower House election, in which the DPJ suffered a crushing defeat. The LDP approached Tamaki prior to the 2014 Lower House election, saying that the LDP would not back a candidate if Tamaki would agree to run as an unaffiliated candidate. Tamaki refused the offer.
Tamaki says, “Democracy will fail if we do not create a political field with alternatives. We will be an alternative to the LDP.” Tamaki’s vision is to create a conservative force that opposes the LDP.
Tamaki was part of the Party of Hope in the 2017 Lower House election. After the Party of Hope came in second to the CDPJ, Tamaki took over the party leadership. He became the leader of the first DPFP, which was formed in 2018 with about 60 Diet members.
Although there were subsequent talks of a merger with CDPJ, Tamaki did not approve of a merger.
Those who were in favor of a merger said that Tamaki “just wants to be a party leader.” Tamaki did not participate in the merger and formed the current DPFP in 2020. With just 20 Diet members, his party has much less clout than the CDPJ.
Contrary to Tamaki’s ideals, the DPFP is facing a harsh reality in terms of its influence and support. A Nikkei survey showed that the support rate of DPFP was around 1%. The DPFP did not win any seats in the July 2021 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
It is difficult to be an “centrist opposition party” without pronounced characteristics. CDPJ Diet affairs committee chair Azumi Jun commented that “[a party] that is unclear about whether it is on the side of the ruling or the opposition camp will be forgotten.”
As the Lower House election approaches, Tamaki is in the difficult position of having to keep an eye on the other opposition parties forming a united front.
How can Tamaki effect a breakthrough in this situation?
The Upper House has more sway over the DPFP, which has 8 Lower House members and 12 Upper House members. A Rengo executive says that the 2022 Upper House election will be the moment of truth for Tamaki.
Tamaki wants his party to be able to propose policies that the administration adopts unconditionally. To critics who say that the DPFP is a “supplementary force for the LDP,” Tamaki responds that “the DPFP can be an alternative [to the LDP] precisely because there is some overlap between the DPFP and LDP.”
When the LDP approached Tamaki in 2014 regarding a run as an unaffiliated candidate, Tamaki consulted Morita. Morita told Tamaki to make his own decision.
Morita reflects that Tamaki “may have been better off as an LDP official.” On the other hand, Morita also says that “the LDP is not as powerful as it once was, and there may be a change in the coalition. That is when Tamaki will be tested.”
Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko occasionally visits Tamaki’s office in the Diet members building. The meetings are to discuss Tokyo’s policies and requests. Tamaki and Koike, who once worked together in the Party of Hope, remain in contact with each other.
Tamaki is seeking a way forward for his party as a “second conservative party,” either by maintaining its current stance or adopting a different approach. (Abridged)