BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
Kenta Izumi, the new leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, was elected on promises to rebuild the party with more younger representatives, especially at the local level, in an attempt to win over a new generation of voters.
But Izumi’s relative youth and lack of deep government experience could make dealing with older, more experienced politicians in the ruling and opposition parties more difficult as the party seeks to become a stronger force in parliament.
Izumi, 47 and a former secretary to Upper House CDP veteran Tetsuro Fukuyama, entered politics in 2003 as a representative for Kyoto’s 3rd district, which is made up of southern portions of the city, and served in the Cabinet Office from 2009 to 2010 while the Democratic Party of Japan was in power.
After spending time as a member of DPJ successor parties Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and Democratic Party for the People, he joined the CDP when it merged with a section of the DPP last year. He then lost to CDP founder Yukio Edano in the leadership election but was appointed as the party’s policy research council chair, putting him in charge of coordinating party legislative proposals.
After his victory in Tuesday’s presidential election, Izumi announced that he planned to give the other three candidates key posts and that half of the top 10 party leaders would be women.
“The party is going to make a fresh start,” Izumi told reporters Tuesday afternoon following his election win.
He appears to be keeping his word. On Wednesday, former state health minister Chinami Nishimura was tapped by Izumi to be the party’s new secretary-general. The two other candidates who ran against him also received senior posts. Seiji Osaka, a special adviser to the prime minister when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) held power, was appointed deputy party president. Junya Ogawa, former parliamentary vice internal affairs minister, was named policy research council chair. CDP members in both houses of parliament are expected to formally approve Izumi’s appointments on Thursday.
“Izumi’s strength is that he’s young and fresh. Thus, he will likely be able to increase the CDP’s approval rate, at least temporarily. His weakness is lack of experience and political power, as he was merely policy research council chair of (an) opposition party,” said Masato Kamikubo, a professor at Ritsumeikan University’s College of Policy Science.
Political journalist Tetsuo Suzuki says Izumi’s task is to unify his own party first, which consists of a number of different groups of members from other former opposition parties that are not always in agreement on certain issues or what should be done about them.
“Izumi is like the general affairs manager of a large corporation. He’s got the ability to absorb various internal conflicts and management issues, act as a conduit between various people, handle them, and organize the organization,” he said.
Izumi will also need to be careful to manage not only the Japanese Communist Party but also key support groups like the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, also known as Rengo, which is opposed to a CDP-JCP tie-up. Izumi’s former party, the DPP, also has many members who oppose cooperation with the JCP.
The Lower House election agreement with the JCP on unified candidates, which included a promise that the JCP would cooperate outside the framework of the Cabinet if the CDP became the ruling party, is one the JCP is anxious to continue. But on Wednesday, Izumi said the agreement needed to be rethought based on a clear examination of why the party lost so badly in the Oct. 31 election.
Suzuki sees Izumi as a realist who will continue to cooperate with the JCP, despite the fact that the CDP and JCP agreement to support unified candidates failed to produce results — with the CDP actually seeing its Lower House seat total fall to 96 from 110.
Kentaro Yamamoto, a professor at Hokkai-Gakuen University who has written about party politics, also says Izumi will continue to cooperate with the JCP on unified district candidates in order to prevent a split opposition vote, even as he attempts to distance himself more from the JCP. At the same time, Izumi, as a former DPP member, is likely to reach out to members of the current DPP to get them to jump ship.
“The DPP has four incumbents supported by labor unions who are up for election in proportional districts in the Upper House election, and it will be difficult for the DPP alone to get all of them re-elected. Izumi is sure to try to get these DPP members to join the CDP,” Yamamoto said.
But when it comes to the JCP, Kamikubo says Izumi’s lack of experience puts him at a disadvantage in negotiations with JCP’s veteran leader Kazuo Shii about the shape of future cooperation at election time. The inexperienced Izumi could also find it difficult to deal with traditional rivalries at the local level between the two parties.
“There are lots of conflicts between the CDP and the JCP in various electoral districts which will be difficult for him to solve,” he said.