Opposition needs unified agenda

There are budding moves to reorganize the fragmented opposition camp to create a new force that can stand up to the giant ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

With the ruling coalition dominating both chambers of the Diet and all other parties trailing far behind, regrouping the opposition camp may be the only way forward to provide voters with a viable alternative to the LDP-New Komeito alliance.

The opposition realignment should not aim for an alliance just for the sake of one without a coherent policy agenda. Another new party would have little chance of winning voter support unless it shows it can deliver what the current ruling parties cannot.

At present, not only are opposition parties dwarfed by the ruling coalition as a result of the 2012 Lower House election and the Upper House poll in 2013; they also appear to be looking in all directions. Some opposition parties also plagued with internal divisions that make it difficult to see where they are headed.

Fragmentation of the opposition camp was evident in the Diet deliberations on the controversial state secrets law late last year. The Democratic Party of Japan remained unable to take initiatives to unite the opposition camp in response to the government legislation, while Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party held talks separately with the ruling coalition to amend the bill. Although Nippon Ishin later boycotted the Diet vote, Your Party went on to support the amended legislation even as more than a dozen members defected. In the end, Abe’s ruling coalition got the secrecy law it wanted with only nominal changes.

The new Unity Party, created by Your Party defectors and led by Kenji Eda, says it will serve as a catalyst for reorganizing opposition parties into a bigger force and has entered talks with Nippon Ishin for an eventual merger. But the prospect for progress is murky.

While Nippon Ishin coleader Toru Hashimoto is positive about merging with the Unity Party, another leader, Shintaro Ishihara, calls the merger talks “meaningless” due to fundamental policy differences on such issues as constitutional revision. Nippon Ishin itself is the product of a merger between the original party founded by Hashimoto in Osaka and other conservative ranks, including Ishihara, before the 2012 Lower House election. Divisions between the two forces plague policy and party management.

Meanwhile, leaders of the DPJ, still the largest opposition force after falling from power in 2012, say their top priority is rebuilding the party after its crushing defeats in the past two national elections and keeping a distance from opposition moves to regroup.

The DPJ itself built up its forces through mergers of conservative and left-of-center lawmakers from the late 1990s until it came to power in 2009. But its 3½-year reign only exposed its weak governance as a party, as internal divisions haunted DPJ-led administrations until it lost voter support.

As it is, the opposition camp is effectively powerless against LDP dominance in the Diet. The fragmented opposition enables the LDP to pick and choose convenient allies to aid its agenda. It makes sense for the opposition parties to seek mergers into a larger force. But merely grouping together parties by papering over different policy directions will not serve any purpose in the end.