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DPJ, Ishin seal merger, will create new opposition party in March

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Staff Writer

Democratic Party of Japan and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) on Friday officially agreed to merge into a new party, forming an alliance they hope will grow with the addition of other opposition parties as they gear up for the crucial Upper House election this summer.

The merger is aimed at helping the struggling DPJ — the biggest opposition party — get back on its feet and put an end to what it calls the “heavy-handed” leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Presidents of the two parties also agreed to urge a hodgepodge of other minority parties, presumably including the Social Democratic Party as well as Seikatsu no To (The People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends), and independent lawmakers to join so the new party can increase its chances against Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

The incoming parties must have the “same political philosophy and principles” as the new DPJ to join, they said.

On Friday afternoon, DPJ President Katsuya Okada and Ishin no To counterpart Yorihisa Matsuno signed the agreement, sealing it with a handshake.

“We would like this day to be remembered as the historic day when we changed the tide of Japan’s politics,” a smiling Okada said.

“There are many people who are skeptical of, and frustrated with, the Abe government’s rule and we want to assure them that our new party will be an option for them.”

The agreement will pave the way for the creation in March of a new party that will hold more than 150 seats in both the lower and upper chambers.

That means the new party, despite its goal of dethroning the LDP, will still be far smaller than the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition, which dominates more than two-thirds of the 475-seat Lower House and has a majority in the 242-seat Upper House.

The new party, which will technically absorb Ishin no To, will try to differentiate itself from the LDP by campaigning on its vow to create a “diverse society where nobody is marginalized,” Okada said.

However, criticism abounds that many Ishin no To members used to belong to the DPJ anyway, meaning the new party will lack a fresh look.

Okada nonetheless described the integration as the “last chance” to beat the entrenched LDP leadership and promised that it won’t fall apart as the DPJ did during first stint in power from 2009 to 2012, when it arrived on a mantra of “change.”