Democratic Party of Japan President Banri Kaieda on Saturday admitted that the opposition camp’s leading force hasn’t regained enough credibility to lead the charge against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the Upper House election.
“The public’s disappointment with us has not changed,” Kaieda said in an exclusive interview with The Japan Times, reflecting on last week’s devastating Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, where it lost almost two-thirds of its seats. “The public does not trust us to be a strong opponent unless we restore this trust.”
Without a clear strategy, the DPJ can’t do much more than criticize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan, dubbed “Abenomics,” for failing to bring about tangible economic benefits, such as wage hikes, in the run-up to next month’s House of Councilors poll.
“Much of Abe’s popularity is based on public expectations that people might benefit from it. But as a responsible opposition party, we have to point out the dangers of it,” Kaieda said, referring to surging government bond yields and potential stock market bubbles.
One of the reasons why the DPJ was ousted from power late last year is that the party was divided over key policies and lacked a strong mechanism to maintain unity. More than a dozen members have left since then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was forced to call a snap election in December.
The DPJ is also struggling to unify its stance on the critical issue of whether war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution should be revised.
Abe said earlier this month that the LDP might try to recruit members of the DPJ to support the watering down of Article 96, which sets the Diet’s voting requirements for launching constitutional amendments. Changing Article 96 to make revisions easier is widely viewed as a necessity for attacking Article 9.
Kaieda said his party is opposed to revising Article 96, but admitted that its stance on changing Article 9 — which bans the use of force in solving international disputes and the right to collective self-defense — is now in flux, despite its belief in maintaining an exclusively defense-oriented military posture.
“We should not extend the interpretation of self-defense based on the United Nations Charter,” Kaieda said.
The Democratic Party of Japan has criticized Yukio Hatoyama, its former leader and first ever prime minister, for appearing to side with China in the sovereignty clash over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands.
“The comments were irresponsible and hurt national interests,” the main opposition party said in a statement.
Hatoyama, one of the founding members of the DPJ, was serving as its president when the party took power in the September 2009 general election, becoming its first prime minister. His short tenure ended in June 2010.
At issue is an interview with Hatoyama that aired Tuesday in which he said he understood why China claims the Senkakus, which it calls Diaoyu.
The Liberal Democratic Party-led government, which took office last December, pounced immediately, slamming Hatoyama and saying his remarks contradict Japan’s official stance that no territorial dispute exists as to the ownership of the Senkakus.
The DPJ said in the statement that it will lodge a protest against Hatoyama, who did not run in the Dec. 16 general election and has retired from politics, because the party “cannot overlook” comments that are “different from the position taken by the (former) DPJ-led government.”
Also Friday, DPJ President Banri Kaieda told reporters in Tokyo, “I want him (Hatoyama) to consider his position when making (such) comments.”
The DPJ’s move to immediately distance itself from Hatoyama is apparently out of fear that his remarks could undermine its campaign in the July 21 Upper House election, given that he is a former party president, political analysts said.
In Sunday’s poll for the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, the DPJ took a drubbing.
Tokyo and Beijing remain at odds over the Senkakus, with the LDP administration maintaining the islands are an inherent part of Japanese territory in terms of history and international law.