BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
Japan’s largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), entered a new era on Tuesday, electing 47-year-old Kenta Izumi as its leader.
Izumi, a Lower House member representing a district in the city of Kyoto, won the top spot on his second try after losing to former leader Yukio Edano in last year’s leadership vote. He takes over a party facing tough questions about how to rebuild following a crushing defeat in the Oct. 31 Lower House election, as well as how — or perhaps whether — to cooperate with other opposition parties ahead of next year’s Upper House election.
“I was the youngest candidate in the election, but I’m not too young. We will not tolerate strange politics, and will become a political party that works for those in need,” Izumi said following his election.
Four candidates were vying to lead the party. They included former parliamentary vice internal affairs minister Junya Ogawa, 50; former state health minister Chinami Nishimura, 54; CDP policy chief Kenta Izumi; and Seiji Osaka, 62, a special adviser to the prime minister when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) held power.
In the first round of voting by CDP prefectural members and party members, a total of 572 points were up for grabs, of which a simple majority of 287 was needed for victory. None of the four challengers garnered that many, but the top two finishers were Izumi, with 189 points, and Osaka, who received 148 points, propelling them to a second round of voting.
The second round had a total of 333 points, with CDP Diet members making up 286 points and prefectural chapters a total of 47 points (one per chapter). With these parameters, Izumi won 205 points to Osaka’s 128.
Tuesday’s presidential election became necessary after Edano resigned following the party’s heavy losses in the Oct. 31 general election. An agreement with the Japanese Communist Party to field unified candidates in district elections failed to produce results, and the party ended up with 96 seats, down from 110 before the election.
Under Izumi, the party must rebuild. Its first test is expected to come when an extraordinary session of parliament opens on Dec. 6. Much of the debate with the ruling parties is likely to center on the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s response to the omicron variant. The CDP’s “zero corona” policy may indicate that it could push Kishida for even tougher border controls than those announced Monday.
But the party must also resolve the thorny question of cooperation in future elections with other opposition parties — especially the Japanese Communist Party.
The JCP has long sought an alliance of like-minded opposition parties and supporting unified candidates in district elections. Last week, JCP Diet affairs committee chair Keiji Kokuta told reporters that a unified campaign strategy with the CDP was the JCP’s top desire for the coming Upper House election. In the Oct. 31 Lower House election, five opposition parties, including the JCP and the CDP, had agreed to rally around one candidate in 213 of the 289 districts — a decision that ended with a poor showing at the polls.
But the nearly 7 million member Japanese Trade Union Confederation (known as Rengo), a frequent CDP supporter, has reacted negatively to a tie-up with the JCP. Rengo president Tomoko Yoshino said on a Sunday television program that any formal unity between the CDP and JCP was out of the question because Rengo’s views on many issues are fundamentally different from those of the JCP.
Instead, Yoshino expressed support for a tie-up between the CDP and the Democratic Party for the People, as many DPP politicians are also supported by members of Rengo. Izumi faces the task of dealing with the JCP in a way that doesn’t undercut the party’s chances before the Upper House election, while also dealing with pressure from Rengo and members within the party who disagree with the JCP and would prefer to forge an effective agreement with the DPP to win seats.