Kenta Izumi, policy chief of Japan’s main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), has been elected as the party’s new leader. Persistent work is needed to revitalize the party into one ready for government.
All four candidates in the leadership contest had no experience as party executives or as Cabinet members in the government of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan. In the first round of voting, no single candidate captured a majority of ballots, and the top two candidates, Izumi and Seiji Osaka, proceeded to a runoff vote.
Izumi, 47, is a conservative, centrist young leader. It appears that the voting, including votes cast by rank-and-file party members, reflected expectations for party renewal via a generational shift, as well as fears that it will have no prospects if it doesn’t expand its support base.
Former party leader Yukio Edano was persistent in pursuing scandals involving the former administrations of prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga. But he wasn’t able to bring non-party affiliated voters onto his side, and the party lost seats in the House of Representatives election in October.
Izumi says he intends to shift the party to place more emphasis on policy proposals. Referring to the results the party had in offering advice on coronavirus countermeasures to the government, he said, “We will listen to people in need, and create policies.”
Looking at the party’s low rate of support, it appears the current situation is not one where a leadership change alone will raise people’s expectations.
What kind of country and society does the CDP envisage? The party must first consolidate its position.
The launch of new leadership is a good opportunity for the party to devise a medium- to long-term vision for the country and plans to rebuild it.
In the leadership election, there was a dearth of substantial debate on the party’s fundamental policy agenda including tax system reform to improve wealth distribution, nuclear policy and constitutional issues. If the CDP is serious about renewal, it should deepen debate on the country’s core issues without worrying if it causes a stir.
To achieve this, the party must strengthen itself. Initiatives such as increasing the number of female lawmakers and improving regional party bodies are also essential.
Making arrangements for the House of Councillors election in the summer of 2022 is another pressing issue. Izumi has acknowledged the need for unified opposition candidates in the 32 constituencies where one seat each is contested, but he has not elucidated what form of cooperation could be taken with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).
In connection with cooperation with the JCP, there are also questions about how to handle the relationship with the fellow opposition Democratic Party for the People, and with the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which provides a significant support base, after the CDP experienced souring relations with those two bodies during the House of Representatives election.
Efforts to revive the CDP must start from the direct acknowledgement of the reality that the road to taking the helm of the government is a harsh one.
Can the party unify under its new leader? This is a critical moment for the country’s largest opposition party.