National / Politics

DP chief offers up options for drastic change in party organization as onetime opposition force falters

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Democratic Party President Kohei Otsuka offered up multiple options to drastically rejigger his party’s organization — including the possible launch of a new party or a name change — during a meeting Tuesday, a party source said.

The options were discussed by a small number of party executives Monday and Tuesday. Otsuka told reporters that he will formally explain the proposals at a meeting of the Standing Officer Council on Wednesday, without offering further details.

Media reports have said that among the options is the “disbandment” of the party and immediate launch of a new party. But the party source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the draft options shown to party executives Tuesday did not include the word “disbandment.” The source, however, did not deny that the options include the launch of a new party by DP members.

The DP, which was the leading opposition force just two months ago, has recently found itself embroiled in turmoil. It was this sense of crisis that apparently prompted Otsuka to propose the drastic measures.

According to the latest NHK public opinion poll, the DP has seen its support rate plummet to 1.8 percent, making the party’s prospects ahead of the 2019 Upper House election increasingly bleak.

Upper House member and well-known journalist Yoshifu Arita bolted the party Monday, and several other members are reportedly considering following suit.

All of the DP’s Lower House members, meanwhile, left the party ahead of the Oct. 22 Lower House election. Instead of fielding its own candidates, the DP’s president at the time, Seiji Maehara, urged Lower House members to join Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of Hope). His strategy, however, was branded a complete disaster after Kibo no To suffered a devastating defeat in the poll.

Before the election, the DP had 88 Lower House members, seven of whom retired without running in the Oct. 22 race. Of the remaining 81 members, 59 survived the Lower House onslaught and now belong to the Constitutional Democratic Party, Kibo no To or are independent lawmakers.

The DP maintains 45 lawmakers in the Upper House.

Technically, the 18 independents in the Lower House continue to be members of the DP and have the right to participate in the party’s decision-making processes.

But the independents who ran in the Oct. 22 election without party backing — including former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and ex-Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada — have formed a separate parliamentary group in the Lower House.

A number of those independents and former DP members who joined Kibo no To are thought to have their eyes on joining the CDP, which emerged as the No. 1 opposition party in the wake of the Oct. 22 election.

Despite those apparent hopes, CDP President Yukio Edano has repeatedly said his party will not accept an exodus from either Kibo no To or the independent group, saying voters are fed up with election and Diet number games.

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