Don’t call us an opposition party, says Katsuya Okada, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan.

Okada told the media several weeks ago that the DPJ was not the opposition but “the party preparing to take office.”

But the DPJ’s defeat in Sunday’s by-elections in the Fukuoka No. 2 and Miyagi No. 2 districts has called into question the party’s ability to take power.

It lost in two constituencies where DPJ lawmakers were forced to leave after becoming embroiled in separate scandals, but the party was still shocked as it expected wins there to show that it was growing in popularity with unaffiliated voters and conservatives.

The two by-elections were the first Diet contests since the House of Councilors election last July, in which the DPJ won more seats than the dominant LDP.

Okada blamed Sunday’s results on poor voter turnout, which was 45.99 percent in the Fukuoka Prefecture district and 36.75 percent in the Miyagi Prefecture district, compared with 53.41 percent and 54.87 percent, respectively, in the last general election for the Lower House in November 2003.

Former LDP Vice President Taku Yamasaki, 68, a friend of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and one of his few allies, won the seat in Fukuoka and LDP newcomer Kenya Akiba, 42, won in Miyagi due to bloc voting by the LDP and the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, a core supporter of the LDP’s junior coalition partner, New Komeito.

Critics blamed the losses on the DPJ’s inability to make its position clear as an “opposition party.”

The party must appeal to the public with clear and concrete policy objectives instead of merely calling for regime change, the critics said.

“Because the DPJ called itself ‘the party preparing to take office,’ it gave the impression it might be no different than the ruling LDP,” said Masaru Kaneko, a law professor at Rissho University.

“An iron rule of parliamentary politics is for an opposition party to keep checks on the party in power and present the people with the problems the ruling party has by conducting campaigns against it both in and out of the Diet.”

Kaneko cited a precedent in the late 1980s when the now-defunct Socialist Party won strong favor with the public by launching a campaign against the LDP’s introduction of a 3 percent consumption tax.

“The DPJ must try to set forth a clear-cut policy from the standpoint of ordinary people to have popular support, because the LDP stands on the side of the rich and big businesses,” he said.

The party must improve its ability to win an election regardless of voter turnout, said Harumi Arima, a political commentator.

Many DPJ members did not work hard enough to win the by-elections, compared with the large number of LDP members who — due to factional rivalries — would end up fighting each other for Diet seats in the now-defunct multiseat electoral system.

“Many DPJ members always pander to popular taste and jump on the bandwagon to follow the way the wind is blowing,” he said.

When Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii recently criticized the DPJ for rejecting its role as the opposition, Okada shot back at the JCP’s agenda, saying: “The time has changed. The people are sick and tired of hearing groundless and unrealistic pledges like making a drastic cut in military expenditures and heavily taxing big companies.”

Arima said, “Many people are now losing interest in the DPJ, which only boasts absolute honesty vis-a-vis the LDP and repeats the need for a regime change.”

The DPJ appears to be struggling against the LDP. Although the public may consider it to be corrupt, the LDP has moved ahead with legislation on pension, security and postal reforms, while the DPJ has failed to come up with detailed policies on the issues due to differences within the party, he said.

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