The Democratic Party of Japan on Wednesday formally endorsed a plan to merge with the smaller Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), in an organizational realignment that it hopes will arm it for battle with the ruling coalition in this summer’s election.
They are expected to form a new party next month.
Separately, most Ishin no To lawmakers expressed support for the integration during a party meeting on Wednesday, Secretary-General Masato Imai told reporters.
The Ishin executives are now expected to formally endorse the plan in another meeting scheduled for Friday, after securing approval from municipal and prefectural assembly members of the party.
The merger, unveiled Tuesday, aims to renovate the unpopular DPJ, which few see as a viable counterweight to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in the upcoming Upper House election. An overhaul would be aimed at winning back voter trust.
Yukio Edano, secretary-general of the DPJ, told reporters after a meeting of party executives Wednesday that the merger was approved by a majority vote.
DPJ President Katsuya Okada and his Ishin no To counterpart Yorihisa Matsuno will meet later this week to agree on the merger in writing, Edano said.
The birth of a new party means the DPJ, which only last month held its annual convention, will likely need to organize another such gathering in the near future in which it would adopt a new party name and platform.
Opinions are divided, however, over the fate of the DPJ brand. Some party veterans, Edano said, are so attached to the name that they insist it remain unchanged or that a new name at least retain the substantive word “democratic.” Others say the party should break with the past by adopting a new name and making a fresh start.
“Whatever conclusion we reach, one thing we agreed upon is that we will stick together and do our best to move on once a decision has been made,” Edano said.
The ruling LDP-Komeito coalition has mocked the two parties for their decision, calling the merger a fight for survival at the expense of principles, pointing out that the pair differ on key issues.
Edano brushed off the criticism, calling integration a “natural option” in the fight against Abe’s government.
“If we fight the election separately, the LDP would almost be guaranteed to win,” he said. “We do have some differences, but they aren’t that huge.”
Imai of Ishin no To likewise said the merger is based on the belief that it needs to “elevate itself to a higher stage” if it wants to oust the LDP.
The planned merger with Ishin no To echoes an institutional overhaul in 1998 that marked the start of the DPJ, in which its precursor — founded in 1996 — absorbed three other opposition parties to become what it is today.
Under the 1998 integration, most lawmakers of the old DPJ left the party temporarily only to rejoin the new entity in an attempt to revamp its image. The DPJ will follow the same procedure to complete the merger with Ishin no To, Edano said.