Kaieda quits as DPJ chief after humiliating ejection from Diet

by and

Staff Writers

A day after the humiliating loss of his Diet seat in Sunday’s general election, Banri Kaieda officially announced his resignation as president of the Democratic Party of Japan, the biggest opposition force.

“I deeply regret the lack of my ability” to retain a Lower House seat, Kaieda said during a news conference at DPJ headquarters in Tokyo. “When I traveled across the country, I heard many appeals from the public asking us to stop the Abe administration from getting out of control. But we couldn’t win the (requisite) number (of seats).”

It is unprecedented for the head of a political party to lose a Diet seat in a national election, especially in view of the wide media exposure they get.

Kaieda’s demise underlines the DPJ’s weakening grip on swing voters in urban areas, particularly in Tokyo.

On Sunday, Kaieda, a former trade minister, lost to Miki Yamada, the Liberal Democratic Party incumbent in the Tokyo No. 1 district that covers Shinjuku, Minato and Chiyoda wards. He also failed to retain the proportional representation seat he won in the 2012 general election.

Kaieda, who took over as DPJ president in December 2012 following the party’s crushing defeat in the Lower House election earlier that month, said that the DPJ hasn’t regained the public trust lost during its three-year term in office from 2009.

Kaieda said he wants his successor, who is expected to be chosen soon, to revitalize the DPJ in order to win the nationwide local elections next April. The party was expected to hold an executive meeting Monday night to decide the schedule for a presidential election.

The likes of Acting President Katsuya Okada, former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and former Environment Minister Goshi Hosono are rumored to be interested in running.

Kaieda was not the only senior DPJ lawmaker to get a drubbing at the hands of Tokyo’s famously capricious swing voters. Naoto Kan, a former DPJ prime minister, lost his seat in the No. 18 district against the LDP candidate, although he squeaked through in the proportional representation segment.

A vocal advocate of abolishing nuclear power, Kan won the very final spot in the 475-seat Lower House.

Kan was prime minister at the time of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns, an experience that shaped him into a strong anti-nuclear activist. But he is also notorious for possessing a short temper and he has been harshly criticized for micromanaging his staff during the nuclear crisis.

“First, I apologize for failing to win a seat in the single-seat constituency, despite your incredible support for me,” a solemn-faced Kan told supporters early Monday. “I have received the 475th seat, thanks to the support from local people and others across the country who rooted for me.”

Other big names to lose their Diet seats included Yoshimi Watanabe, founder and former president of the now-defunct Your Party. After the minor opposition party disbanded Nov. 28 amid an internal power struggle, Watanabe ran in the Tochigi No. 3 district as an independent candidate but was defeated by the LDP’s Kazuo Yana.

Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), an extreme right-wing opposition party, saw a number of key members lose their seats, winning just two in Sunday’s poll.

Hiroshi Yamada, the party’s secretary-general, lost his seat in the Tokyo No. 19 district and also failed to land a proportional representation slot. Yamada is widely known as a historical revisionist and an influential polemicist who has openly claimed that Japan did not force any women into sexual slavery in military brothels for Imperial Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

Toshio Tamogami, another Jisedai no To candidate and a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff, also failed to win a Diet seat. Tamogami, too, is well-known for his revisionist and anti-Chinese views.