• Kyodo

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The leader of Japan’s main opposition force, the Democratic Party, will propose that the party stand no candidates in next month’s Lower House election, and let its members run under the banner of the new party led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, sources said Wednesday.

Seiji Maehara himself intends to stand as an independent in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election, the sources said. He is set to formally propose the idea to party lawmakers on Thursday.

The move may end up splitting up the Democratic Party, which has been facing declining public support and an exodus of lawmakers to Koike’s camp.

The establishment this week of Kibo no To (Party of Hope) by Tokyo’s popular governor has shaken up Japan’s political scene just ahead of the Lower House race. Like the Democratic Party, the new “reform-minded conservative party” aims to take seats from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan throughout most of the postwar era.

Abe is expected to dissolve the Lower House on Thursday, with official election campaigning to start on Oct. 10.

Maehara’s decision apparently reflects concerns that the fielding of rival candidates by both parties would split, and therefore weaken, the anti-LDP vote. It also gives him a way out of having to manage fractures within the Democratic Party.

“We will bring an end to the Abe administration, whatever we have to come up with,” Maehara said Wednesday at a party-related meeting in Sendai.

“Opposition parties can’t win elections when they’re all split up,” he said.

With less than a month until election day, Koike’s party had been planning to field only around 100 candidates nationwide. The influx of Democratic Party members will allow it to compete with ruling coalition candidates in more electoral districts than it could on its own.

But the mass import risks fueling perceptions that the new party could take on the same qualities that made the Democratic Party flounder.

And it remains to be seen whether Koike is willing to take on all those who want to run with her.

Sources close to the governor said she has signaled that she intends to treat the newcomers differently from those who defected from the Democratic Party earlier to help her found the new party.

“I won’t (take them all on) in one go. … I’ll sift through them,” the sources quoted her as telling her inner circle.

Publicly, Koike denied Wednesday that her party has any position on what the Democratic Party should do.

“It’s up to them to decide what action they will take,” she said after a plenary session of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly.

Conservative-leaning Maehara and Koike worked together in the early 1990s when both were part of the now-defunct Japan New Party.

Maehara has been Democratic Party leader for just three weeks, having defeated liberal Yukio Edano in a leadership contest triggered in part by the party’s poor showing in July’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

A Koike-aligned regional party cleaned up in that assembly race, having secured the backing of the Democratic Party’s key support body, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo).

Maehara and like-minded Democratic Party members may eventually decide to jump ship to Koike’s party, while others disapprove of the new party and feel closer to the Japanese Communist Party.

JCP leader Kazuo Shii indicated Wednesday night he is closely watching developments, but told reporters he “will not comment on specific happenings.”

Koike, Maehara and veteran lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the smaller Liberal Party, met recently to discuss working together, sources said.

For Ozawa, banding together offers access to increased funding, a pool of experienced lawmakers and the support network of Rengo.

The Democratic Party, JCP, Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party have backed united candidates in recent elections under a strategy adopted by Maehara’s predecessors, but he made his skepticism about the practice clear during the DP leadership contest.

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