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Japan’s largest opposition party faces crucial test in upcoming Upper House poll

  • January 7, 2022
  • , The Japan Times
  • JMH Translation



For Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Kenta Izumi, 2022 is especially auspicious, as he was born in 1974 — also the Year of the Tiger.


“Like a tiger, which can reportedly run hundreds of miles in a single day, I will travel around the country this year to promote the CDP’s policies and make efforts to win the Upper House election,” Izumi told reporters on Tuesday, after a visit to the Grand Shrines of Ise in Mie Prefecture.


For the CDP, success or failure in the vote scheduled to take place in the summer is likely to determine the post-election futures of not only Izumi but the party itself. Questions remain over whether another agreement between the CDP and the Japanese Communist Party to back the same candidates wherever possible could lead to a net increase or a decrease in Upper House seats for the opposition camp.


While the CDP and the JCP share some basic policy stances and oppose the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s plans to revise the Constitution, their attempt to field unified candidates in last year’s Lower House election produced poor results.


The CDP and the JCP, along with the Democratic Party for the People, Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi, fielded unified candidates in 213 out of the 289 Lower House districts, but only won 59 seats, a 28% success rate. Including seats won via proportional representation, the CDP, which had 110 seats going into the election, finished with only 96.


The poor results led to wholesale leadership changes for the CDP, and the party once again faces questions about what it and the JCP, in particular, might do to cooperate before the Upper House election. Currently, the CDP holds 44 seats in the 248-seat chamber. Of these, 22 seats are up for election this year, including 15 district and seven proportional representation seats. The JCP holds 13 seats, with six, including one district and five proportional seats, being contested this year.


The ruling coalition has 136 seats in total, with the LDP holding 108 and Komeito the other 28. This year, 54 LDP and 14 Komeito seats are up for election.


The JCP has indicated it would like to once again cooperate with the CDP on unified candidates for the Upper House poll, which will take place during the party’s centennial anniversary.


“Let’s make a breakthrough worthy of the 100th anniversary of our party’s establishment by making the joint struggle of citizens and opposition parties a success,” JCP head Kazuo Shii said in an address Tuesday.


Supporters of continued JCP-CDP cooperation are concerned that without unified candidates in single-seat districts, both parties will field their own choices, split the opposition vote and hand seats over to ruling party-backed candidates.


While admitting the Lower House election failed to produce overall results, they note that in 31 district races, less than 10,000 votes separated their losing candidate from the winning candidate. Supporters of cooperation see that as a sign that, with more effort and cooperation among the parties, unified candidates would do better in the Upper House election.


But the CDP’s main political backer, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, better known as Rengo, is against cooperation with the JCP, as is the DPP, which is also supported by Rengo. While Izumi has indicated he would like to cooperate with the DPP at election time, the DPP has said it will watch carefully what happens between the CDP and JCP, and that it is extremely important that parties that cooperate be in agreement on policy matters.


Izumi has hinted at a cautious approach to any agreement with the JCP, saying the first step is for the party to review the election and reassess the CDP’s relationship with other parties. He also emphasized policy differences between the two parties.


“The CDP naturally assumes the legitimacy of the emperor system and endorses the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and the Self-Defense Forces. We must not let anything happen that shakes the foundation of trust in the CDP, and we must aim for a framework for future governing that is based on these policies,” Izumi said, while leaving the door open for discussions with other parties in terms of cooperating against the LDP-Komeito coalition.


The JCP, by contrast, opposes the emperor system, the security treaty and changing the Constitution to recognize the SDF.


Political journalist Tetsuo Suzuki says that while there is criticism from Rengo in particular over a CDP-JCP agreement, Izumi is, at the end of the day, a pragmatist.


“Izumi has a firm policy in mind for the Upper House election and it’s called ‘pragmatism,'” he said. “There are many things that the party might do. But in the end, nothing will come of their plans unless they win the election.


“With the idea of doing whatever it takes to win, Izumi is likely to adopt an unbiased approach to the idea of opposition parties working together.”

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