DPJ, Ishin no To to merge ahead of Upper House election

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Staff Writers

The Democratic Party of Japan, the nation’s biggest opposition party, will merge with Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) in a bold institutional shake-up aimed at preparing for the key Upper House election in summer.

The move will hopefully spruce up the DPJ’s battered public image, party officials said Tuesday.

The merger, which is slated to take place by the end of March, will create a party with 93 members in the 475-seat Lower House and 59 members of the 242-seat Upper House.

In addition, five Upper House members from Ishin no To are expected to form a separate parliamentary group allied with the new party.

The DPJ and Ishin no To, the third-largest opposition party, will have separate meetings Wednesday with rank-and-file party members, who party executives hope will endorse the merger plan agreed to Monday night by DPJ President Katsuya Okada and his Ishin no To counterpart Yorihisa Matsuno.

The new party will still be far smaller than the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which now occupies more than two-third of the Lower House and a majority of the Upper House.

But DPJ and Ishin members hope the merger will buff the tarnished public images of the two parties and boost voter support ahead of the Upper House election.

A consultative body will soon be launched to choose a new name and policy platform for the party.

Legally speaking, the DPJ will absorb Ishin members and will remain the same entity under the planned merger, DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano told reporters.

But the Ishin no To side said the merger will pave the way for the birth of what it called a “new party,” followed by organizational realignment and the creation of a new party name and platform.

Earlier, Ishin no To had insisted that both parties be disbanded to create a brand-new party. The DPJ refused, stalling the merger for months.

“The most important thing is the public’s perception,” said Masato Imai, secretary-general of Ishin no To, during a news conference, adding that the legal technicalities are inconsequential. “We have been most mindful about whether the public will think of it as a new party, and whether they’ll feel it is worthy of their trust.”

Imai added that the two parties will aim to complete the integration as early as next month.

Questions remain, however, over whether the envisaged merger will prove a game-changer for the struggling DPJ, which has been dogged by lackluster popularity stemming from its tumultuous time in power from 2009 to 2012, which was fraught with broken promises and the unprecedented 3/11 triple disaster.

DPJ policy chief Goshi Hosono, for one, acknowledged that his party will face an uphill battle in winning back the public’s trust even after the integration.

“I don’t believe the merger will lead to a drastic increase in public support for us,” he told reporters.

Indeed, public skepticism surrounding the merger appears high.

An opinion poll jointly conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji News Network over the weekend showed that 63.1 percent of the public doesn’t have high hopes for the tie-up, compared with 32.5 percent who said they do.

LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki had a more cynical take, arguing that the two parties are merging merely to ensure their survival, and not for any grand political ideals.

“A political party must have a clear identity, must be clear about what it wants to achieve and where it’s headed. If you join forces and become one just for the sake of winning an election, I must say it’s a very immature thing to do,” Tanigaki said Tuesday.

Still, Hosono argued the move will improve the chances that voters will regard the DPJ as a more viable alternative to the LDP than it has ever been.

“The important thing is that under the merger we will be able to serve as a ‘core’ opposition force” against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP, he said. “So far, we haven’t been able to do so. I hope this will turn the tide in our favor.”

Ishin no To had previously maintained that it cannot agree to join forces with the DPJ unless the latter disbands and the two become an entirely new entity together.

This was because the five Upper House lawmakers in Ishin no To, who were elected with the party representation system of the now-defunct Your Party, are prevented from moving to an existing party under parliamentary law.

Although the DPJ and Ishin previously disagreed fundamentally over key issues such as whether to raise the consumption tax and increase the salaries of public servants, they have now managed to rise above those differences, Hosono said, adding: “There is no reason for us not to move forward.”