The Democratic Party of Japan, which suffered a devastating defeat in the Dec. 16 Lower House election, is in the throes of a crisis characterized by apathy and loss of direction. Its Lower House seats dwindled from the pre-election 230 to 57. Eight members of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda lost seats.
The DPJ still managed to be the No. 1 opposition party. As such, it should remember that it has an important duty to check the excesses of the next government of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.
The DPJ is still the No. 1 party in the Upper House with 87 seats. The Upper House election to be held in the summer of 2013 will be a critical election not only for the DPJ but also for the whole nation. The DPJ leaders should realize that not much time is left for consolidating the foundation for its revival.
The biggest reason for the DPJ’s defeat in the Lower House election is that Mr. Noda, with the support of the LDP and Komeito, pushed a bill to raise the consumption tax rate. This was taken by people as a betrayal of the DPJ’s 2009 Lower House election manifesto, which did not mention the tax raise.
Although the manifesto’s slogan was “People’s lives come first,” the party leadership failed to give a full explanation of how a higher consumption tax rate will translate into improvement of people’s lives. This caused a schism in the party and led to the departure of Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, the former DPJ secretary general who helped the DPJ win in the 2009 election, and his supporters.
The responsibility of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the DPJ leaders under him is also heavy. They concentrated on bashing Mr. Ozawa, indicted over his fund management body’s reporting errors, thus weakening the DPJ from inside, at a time when it had to fight its political rival, the LDP.
The most important duty for the DPJ’s new leadership is to develop a policy plank clearly distinct from the direction of the LDP, around which party members can unite. For example, the LDP is clearly hawkish, as symbolized by its call for revising the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution. The DPJ should take a clear stand opposing such hawkish leanings.
The DPJ also must work out a clear-cut and consistent policy designed to eventually end Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, in contrast with the LDP’s fuzzy nuclear power policy. The party also should develop a policy to minimize political friction in East Asia.
Although political and financial conditions are difficult, the DPJ should again give serious thought to what was meant by its former slogan of “People’s lives come first” and work out appealing and convincing policy measures that will help stabilize people’s lives.
The DPJ leaders should realize that there is a lot of room for adopting policies that are clearly different from the LDP’s and that can win the party greater public support.