The opposition Democratic Party of Japan held a self-deprecating convention Saturday, inviting more than 500 people aged under 30 to criticize their three-year rule in an effort to garner more support from young voters ahead of the Upper House election.
The unusual meeting was initiated by young DPJ lawmakers who felt a strong urge to reflect on their mistakes as a way to help restore the party, which was ousted from power in a landslide defeat in December’s Lower House election.
The event was streamed live on the Nico Nico Douga video-sharing website and drew more than 10,000 viewers as ranking party members including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma took questions coming in via cellphones.
Asked where the DPJ went wrong, the participants agreed that the party didn’t sufficiently analyze the feasibility of its campaign promises and sometimes “over-talked” what it intended to do.
“We only had the big picture of what we wanted to achieve, but did not understand the process of working out the details with bureaucrats or passing bills while facing protests from the opposition bloc,” said Nagatsuma. “It was different than being the opposition party.”
Of the 166 policy items the DPJ pledged before its ascent to power, only 31 percent were achieved, according to an internal DPJ report. One of the biggest mistakes harming the party’s credibility was Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s failure to relocate the U.S. Futenma airbase outside Okinawa Prefecture. The fracas also damaged the Japan-U.S. alliance.
“You can’t set a clear deadline for any diplomatic issue, as you have to negotiate with your counterparts,” Edano said, alluding to the time frame that Hatoyama pledged for the Futenma relocation.
Asked their views on ex-DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, Kan grudgingly blamed him for eroding party unity, which was already crumbling, by abolishing the DPJ’s policy research unit, which traditionally worked as a mechanism to coordinate different views among party ranks rather than consolidating all the decision-making power in the DPJ-led government.
“Ozawa is a person who would do anything to maintain his clout,” said Kan. “He wanted to have influence over the lawmakers who did not have posts in the administration.”
After losing almost two-thirds of its 308 Lower House seats since 2009, the DPJ has not been able to rebrand itself and its approval rates have hovered at less than 10 percent.
With the Upper House election slated for July, it has already lost three of its seats in the chamber, allowed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to close the gap.
“The LDP knows how to convince voters even though sometimes their campaign pledges can be deceiving,” said Edano, referring to the LDP’s decision to join the negotiations for the controversial U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade framework.
During the campaign for the December election, the LDP pledged that it would not join the trade pact if tariffs are lifted without exceptions.
Although the purpose of the DPJ meeting was self-criticism, many who viewed it thought the party failed to present constructive discussions on how to revive itself other than merely apologizing for failing to meet voters’ expectations.
“It was supposed to be a gathering for them to reflect upon themselves, but they just made excuses for why they could not fulfill their pledges” said a 23-year-old college senior who asked not to be named. “It really betrayed my expectation for the event.”