Struggling opposition party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) on Friday elected a new co-head to serve alongside its founder, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, choosing a candidate who upholds her conservative stance on revising the pacifist Constitution and beefing up the nation’s national security.
The victory of young hopeful Yuichiro Tamaki, 48, set the tone for the nascent, second-largest opposition, which has become increasingly rudderless following its dismal election showing last month and Koike’s subsequent withdrawal from party management.
With Koike declaring her intention to dedicate herself to her duty as governor, Tamaki, a former Democratic Party lawmaker, will represent Kibo no To in the Diet. The latest NHK survey shows the party is grappling with tepid popularity of 4.8 percent. Although Kibo no To fielded 235 candidates, it ended up with an underwhelming 50 seats in the Lower House election held on Oct. 22.
The new co-head largely hews to Koike’s conservative line by adopting, for example, a more tolerant view on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s security laws and the idea of revising war-renouncing Article 9 of the postwar pacifist Constitution. Tamaki said he wants to arrange a meeting with the governor as soon as possible so he can “communicate well with her.”
As an opposition leader Tamaki, according to Kazuhisa Kawakami, a professor of political science at the International University of Health and Welfare, now faces the daunting task of “carving out a new political market where he can take a stance against Abe’s ruling bloc and still remain conservative himself.”
Indeed, Tamaki insisted his party will “fiercely challenge” the Abe administration in Diet debates, categorically denying that it will align itself with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition.
“We have no intention of complementing the ruling bloc,” Tamaki told a news conference after being elected.
“When the government submits a bill or budget proposal that is hard to accept, we will go all-out in contesting them and positioning ourselves against the Abe administration,” he said. Tamaki beat his sole contender, Hiroshi Ogushi, by securing 39 of the total 53 votes cast.
Kibo no To largely consists of lawmakers who, tempted by Koike’s populist boom, fled the DP, which was in disarray, ahead of the October election in the hopes of having a better shot at re-election.
But now that the party, despite the initial hype, has shrunk into a mere 50-seat force in the 465-member Lower House, there is a question of whether Tamaki will reach out to other opposition parties to form a united front against the ruling camp, which controls a combined 312 seats in the same chamber. Unlike Ogushi, who has called for an “active” tie-up with other spinoffs of the DP, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Tamaki said Friday he will take a different approach.
“Reuniting with DP lawmakers only means we’re turning back the clock,” he said.
“In baseball, we would be a newbie team which has barely enough players and is scrambling to collect the necessary equipment like balls and bats. I don’t think we can talk about a tie-up with other teams yet,” he said.
On security, Tamaki said he will take a “realistic” approach amid escalating regional tensions fueled by North Korea’s relentless nuclear threats, thereby ruling out the idea of seeking to “abolish” — as is claimed by some opposition parties — Abe’s security laws that have significantly expanded the legal scope of overseas operations by the Self-Defense Forces.
He also said he believes “there are lots of things about the Constitution that can be revised” as per today’s changing society, while clarifying he opposes Abe’s recently announced goal of amending the 70-year-old charter by 2020.
Regarding the Constitution, Kawakami, of the International University of Health and Welfare, said Tamaki is for now likely to avoid calling for the revision of Article 9 lest his party be regarded as a “supplementary force” of the LDP. His realistic choice, the professor said, is to maintain a conservative color by pursuing less contentious changes, such as limiting the prime minister’s rights to dissolve the Lower House and strengthening decentralization.
In a proposal he said he will characterize as one of Kibo no To’s central policies, Tamaki revealed the party will aim to compile a comprehensive policy measure battling the widespread problem of dementia in aging Japan.
Without sparing the nation’s working population the debilitating burden of looking after their dementia-hit parents, “the government’s ongoing push to reform Japan’s work-style and boost productivity will never pay off,” he said.