Top executives from two opposition parties reached a broad agreement Monday to form a joint parliamentary group, a move that could potentially knock the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan — a staunchly liberal party dead-set against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to revise the Constitution — out of its position as the biggest opposition force in the Lower House.
The deal by Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and the Democratic Party, if finalized, would mark a tectonic shift in the Diet since the No. 1 opposition party is usually given a greater say in parliamentary decisions, including how to proceed on constitutional amendments should any be proposed.
On Monday, the secretaries-general of the two parties met and agreed to tie up for this year’s regular Diet session, which kicks off on Jan. 22.
A group of 14 independents who belonged to the DP before the Lower House election in October are expected to join the parliamentary group, according to the party executives. This would create the largest opposition bloc in both the Upper and Lower houses.
Under the deal, Kibo, the DP and the group of independents would maintain their separate organizations and platforms, but all members would be obliged to vote in unity in the Diet.
Kibo no To, the key component of the alliance, is considered more flexible on constitutional revision than the CDP, which has 54 seats in the Lower House and six in the Upper House.
The new group would have 65 seats in the Lower House and nearly 50 in the Upper House. To be effective, the deal should be approved by the rank-and-file members of each party.
Kibo no To leader Yuichiro Tamaki on Friday reiterated his party’s intention to oppose Abe’s proposal to add an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces to war-renouncing Article 9.
But Kibo no To has several conservative members calling for constitutional revision. Others are known for their strongly nationalist stances, such as Kyoko Nakayama and her husband, Nariaki Nakayama.
It has long been the general consensus in the Diet that at least the approval of the biggest opposition force should be secured before making key decisions on constitution-related issues, including whether to initiate a national referendum.
Abe has said that Article 9 should be revised to formalize the legal status of the SDF, which he promises would not change the substance of its operations.
The CDP, however, opposes Abe’s proposal, saying it’s based on the 2015 security laws, which the party believes violate the pacifist Constitution by partially approving Japan’s use of collective self-defense, or aiding an ally under attack. Use of the right was long considered banned by Article 9.
The group of 14 independents includes former DP President Katsuya Okada and other heavyweights.
Teruhiko Mashiko, secretary-general of the DP, said Monday he is hopeful the independents will agree to the tie-up but indicated they have yet to explicitly say they will join.
Later at a news conference, Mashiko said he will “make a continued effort” to convince the CDP to join the new parliamentary group even after the DP’s deal with Kibo no To is finalized.
Yukio Edano, head of the CDP, has consistently rejected the idea of forming an alliance with the DP and Kibo no To lest it be perceived by voters as engaging in what he called a “numbers game” in the Diet.
In a document unveiled Monday, the Kibo no To and DP representatives agreed to protect the pacifist elements of the Constitution but offered no stronger commitment regarding Abe’s proposal and Article 9.
On Abe’s divisive 2015 security laws, which give the SDF a bigger role overseas, Kibo no To, which has adopted a tolerant stance on them, compromised by agreeing to join the DP’s effort to scrap the parts of the laws deemed unconstitutional.
Since winning by a landslide in October’s snap election, an emboldened Abe has missed no opportunity to emphasize his willingness to amend the charter by 2020 — a self-imposed deadline he unveiled in a surprise announcement last May.
Speaking in Tokyo in December, Abe said he wants 2020 to mark a “significant rebirth” of Japan with a renewed Constitution. Separately, at a New Year’s news conference, he said he’d like to see the Diet initiate amendments by the end of the year.
UPDATE: The original headline and report were amended on Jan. 16 to reflect the fact that party leaders of the Democratic Party and Kibo no To are currently reaching out to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.