Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) has rebranded itself as the Liberal Party, adopting the name of a recently defunct conservative party in a bid to lure right-of-center voters away from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The party registered its name change at the internal affairs ministry on Wednesday.
Party chief Ichiro Ozawa headed the old Liberal Party from 1998 to 2003, though that party had a sharply different policy platform.
In part, the rebranding aims to resolve the verbal gymnastics of Seikatsu no To, whose formal name in English, People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends, was a mouthful.
Party co-leader Taro Yamamoto, an anti-nuclear activist and former actor, will form another political group called Taro Yamamoto and Friends, although in a twist, Yamamoto will remain a member of the Liberal Party.
Ozawa said the two groups will field separate candidates in the proportional representation segment of the next Lower House election.
“People now believe the Lower House will be dissolved early next year and a general election will be held,” he told a news conference. “We’ve decided to renew our organization to prepare for an election.”
Some lawmakers believe the election could be held as early as January.
Ozawa hopes the name change will attract conservatives who once supported the old Liberal Party.
At the same time, Yamamoto will use his name recognition to draw supporters to Taro Yamamoto and Friends, Ozawa said. It is thought that many of them would be put off voting for the Liberal Party, so associated as that brand is with the political right.
But the name change may perplex older voters who once supported Ozawa.
The old Liberal Party was a vocal advocate of deregulation and budget cuts. Its supporters saw Ozawa as a standard-bearer for small government and free-market policies.
The party has recently become more like a social democratic party, if its slogan is anything to go by: “People’s life comes first.”
Some observers say Ozawa has cast ideological rigor aside, adopting a repeatedly shifting stance to attract the maximum number of voters.
He was once a heavyweight in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the 1980s and early 90s and served as president of the Democratic Party of Japan from 2006 to 2009.
But now his party has only five Diet members, two of whom are Ozawa and Yamamoto. It is expected to face an uphill battle in the next general election.