On Dec. 14, 2021, Izumi Kenta, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), attended a public speaking event with Ogawa Junya, the CDPJ’s policy research council chair, at a location in front of Tokyo’s Yurakucho Station where people were passing by on their way home from work. “I’ve brought a notepad and pen,” said Izumi. Ogawa and Izumi, who was wearing a windbreaker, wrote down the audience’s comments.
Izumi’s audience, which seemed to be comprised of CDPJ supporters, called out completely opposing suggestions: “If you shift to the left, you won’t be able to take over the government,” “Cooperate with the Japanese Communist Party to defeat the current government.” The interactive discussion conducted on the street was the kind of event Ogawa excels at.
Izumi has been called a person “who always scores 3.5 (out of 5)” and “is very cautious.” One month has passed since he took office. A Diet member close to Izumi describes him as a balanced leader who does everything well but is nothing out of the ordinary.
Izumi was born in Sapporo. He is the youngest of four siblings. “I’ve lived well by watching my brothers and sisters,” he says.
Izumi used to follow the election car of Yokomichi Takahiro, a Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) member who became the governor of Hokkaido. When Izumi was a junior high school student, he decided that he was going “become a politician.”
Kyoto became Izumi’s hometown after he entered Ritsumeikan University in 1993. He wanted to be involved in politics without joining the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), so he knocked on the door of JSP’s Kyoto headquarters. He also visited the office of Maehara Seiji.
Izumi volunteered in recovery efforts after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 and the Nakhodka oil spill in 1997, and was somewhat well known among Kansai area college students. After graduating from college, he became Fukuyama Tetsuro’s secretary.
When Izumi was 25, he was invited by Maehara to run for the Kyoto 3rd district seat as a Democratic Party of Japan candidate in the 2000 House of Representatives election. He lost his first election, but since 2003 he has been elected eight times in a row, once for a proportional representation seat.
Izumi chose to join the former Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan as a mediator for the former Democratic Party for the People. He ran against former CDPJ representative Edano Yukio in the CDPJ leadership election when he joined the party in September 2008. Although Izumi lost, he became the CDPJ’s policy research council chair.
“I decided to keep quiet under the current CDPJ leadership,” said Izumi. The rift between him and Edano was obvious. Although the CDPJ released major policy objectives, Izumi’s presence was weak.
After Edano announced his resignation on November 2, 2021, Izumi began making preparations under the radar to run for the CDPJ leadership. His inner circle asked Ozawa Ichiro for help.
Ozawa reportedly asked, “Can you win? You have to win at all costs. If you lose, you’ll get a raw deal.” Ozawa had just experienced the humiliation of being elected for a proportional representation seat although he lost his single-seat constituency in the October 2021 Lower House election.
In the Dec. 8 Diet interpellations, Izumi presented Prime Minister Kishida Fumio with “17 items of policy proposals,” which was a question in the style of a proposition, with the aim of dispelling the CDPJ’s image as a party of criticism.
Izumi used to wonder as a child, “Why do the JSP and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) lose every election even though they say the right things?”
There’s a difference between “the right thing” and reality. The environment in East Asia is harsh and cannot be dealt with simply by waving the flag of peace. Partly due to the influence of Maehara, Izumi maintains a stance of being “realistic toward those who are nearby and restrained toward those who are distant” in the area of diplomacy and security.
In responding to a question from the audience in the Yurakucho session, Izumi said the CDPJ will “demonstrate that it is an opposition party that many ordinary citizens regard highly.” The opposition parties in the Showa Period were considered to be successful if they held one-third of the Diet seats, which is sufficient to block a constitutional amendment. Now, the opposition needs realistic policy proposals to win in the single-seat constituencies.
“We are a long way from taking over the government. We have to build a big united front and gain widespread support.” Izumi’s first real trial will be the Upper House election this summer.
Building a united front and coordinating with the JCP in single-seat districts are difficult issues. Yoshino Tomoko, chair of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), says bluntly that the CDPJ “should part ways with the JCP.” Rengo is an organization that supports the CDPJ.
According to the Nikkei opinion poll in December 2021, the CDPJ’s approval rating was 10%. The Nippon Ishin no Kai (Ishin) had a 13% approval rating, which surpassed that of CDPJ for the second straight month.
Izumi will deal with the CDPJ by coordinating with CDPJ Secretary-General Nishimura Chinami, who also ran in the CDPJ leadership election, Acting Representative Osaka Seiji, and Ogawa. The latest party posters depict the four of them. A CDPJ board member commented on the poster by saying: “The leader isn’t in the foreground. You can’t get the job done by being friends.”
Both the former Democratic Party and the CDPJ were comprised of members who were originally from different parties, and the party leaders struggled to manage their intraparty dynamics. By emphasizing balance, the party may end up maintaining the status quo. Can Izumi shake off the image that he is a person who “always scores 3.5” and highlight his personality in a way that touches the hearts of the voters? (Abridged)