With polls earlier this month showing a majority of voters opposed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial security bills, and with the ruling bloc taking a shellacking from liberal media outlets, the nation’s major opposition parties were encouraged to remain united in attempting to block the legislation.
Then on Sept. 18, the bills, designed to greatly expand the legal scope of Japan’s military role overseas, were rammed through the Upper House by Abe’s ruling coalition amid an uproar.
However, despite the united front put up by the opposition, it may be those parties — not Abe’s ruling coalition nor administration — that are now struggling through their own crisis.
Most major media outlets conducted polls last week, and all showed that the support rate for Abe’s Cabinet had fallen by just a few points.
Meanwhile, the major opposition forces saw their support rates fall as well, leaving Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party as far and away the most popular party.
According to a Kyodo News poll conducted Sept. 19 and 20, the support rate for Abe’s Cabinet dropped by 4.3 points to 38.9 percent from the previous month, and that of the LDP slid 2.2 percent to 32.8 percent.
This compared to the support rate for the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, which fell 1 point to 9.5 percent. Ishin no To, the second largest opposition force, saw its support rate fall by 1.9 points to 2.8 percent, no doubt due to recent strife within the party.
The Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the No. 3 opposition force, too, saw a 1.1 point drop in its support rate to 3.9 percent.
In an article published Tuesday in the Sankei Shimbun, a right-wing daily that has strongly backed both the Abe administration and the security bills, top executives of the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition were reported to have felt “relieved” upon hearing the results of the latest polls.
“The support rates (in media polls) for the LDP have been generally stable. The impact of the enactment of the security bills seems to be limited,” Sankei’s on-line version declared in the article.
Still, the same Kyodo poll taken Sept. 19 and 20 showed 53 percent of 1,017 respondents nationwide were opposed to the security bills, while 34.1 percent backed them. More than 80 percent said they did not think the government provided “sufficient explanations” about the bills.
The results indicate the lack of an attractive, alternative opposition party and not strong support for Abe or the LDP, likely a key factor in the relatively high level of support the LDP has retained.
Indeed, the DPJ left voters deeply disillusioned during its time in power from 2009 to 2012 after a number of huge political blunders, including a breach of its election vow to drastically cut “wasteful” government spending and instead increase welfare budgets, including those to help younger people with child-rearing.
“The DPJ has been tainted by the stigma of big failures,” said a DPJ member serving his fourth term in the Lower House. “We need to revamp ourselves by realigning the opposition forces. Otherwise, the LDP-led administration will continue forever.”
Indeed, some in the DPJ and about half of Ishin no To’s members are exploring ways to merge the two parties, which they believe will refresh the public image of party members and help them survive the next election.
The JCP, meanwhile, has proposed that major opposition parties combine forces to form a “national coalition government” focusing solely on abolishing Abe’s security legislation. To do this, the parties would need to all work together while setting aside their vast political differences.
However, the hurdles for opposition parties to join forces and create a powerful enough force to oust Abe’s ruling bloc appear to be set very high.
The other half of Ishin no To’s lawmakers, mainly those who are based in the Kansai area, are set to break away from the party and create a new pro-government group, which will likely reduce by a considerable amount the impact of any merger with the DPJ.
Another obstacle is that many in the DPJ remain reluctant to dissolve the party and create a new one as Ishin no To President Yorihisa Matsuno has called for.
Instead, top DPJ executives apparently believe Ishin no To should dissolve itself and its members should join the DPJ.
On Sept. 3, several junior DPJ lawmakers, including Shuhei Kishimoto and Kensuke Onishi, submitted a petition to party President Katsuya Okada, urging the leadership to dissolve the party and create a new one. The proposal was immediately welcomed by Matsuno. However, when asked about the petition at a regular news conference held the following day, Okada responded coldly.
“I asked (Kishimoto and Onishi), ‘You are acting rather hastily, aren’t you?’ ” Okada told the news conference.
“Now there is no consensus among (the DPJ) about the (proposed) dissolution of the party,” he added.
On Friday, JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii met Okada at the Diet in an effort to explain the party’s proposal, urging the opposition parties to put aside differences and join forces to form a coalition government focused solely on abolishing Abe’s contentious security bills.
However, forming a coalition with the JCP has long been a taboo subject among the other opposition parties, given the party’s communist dogma in its policy platform, including its long-held call for the eventual abolition of the Japan-U.S. military alliance.
After the meeting, Okada told reporters that, for now, he believes the chances of forming a coalition government with the JCP are slim.
“This may sound rude to say, but the political hurdle to form a coalition government with the JCP is very high,” he said.