National / Politics

Rock bottom in opinion polls, Japanese opposition parties Kibo no To and Democratic Party decide to merge

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Two major opposition parties, Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and the Democratic Party, formally decided at a convention Monday to merge, but only 62 of their combined 107 members plan to join the new entity, their officials said.

This means the new party, named Democratic Party for the People, will likely fail to become the largest opposition party, leaving Japan’s fractured opposition camp in disarray.

As of Monday, the DPP had 39 Lower House members and 23 Upper House members, according to an internal list shown to The Japan Times.

In the meantime, 10 other lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, have reportedly asked to join the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. This will ensure that the CDP, which has 63 members, remains the biggest opposition force in the Diet.

At the convention, the DPP membership elected Yuichiro Tamaki and Kohei Otsuka to be co-leaders of their new party. The two are currently the heads of Kibo no To and the DP, respectively.

The DPP will include politicians from “moderate conservatives to liberals” and aim to become “a middle-of-the-road reformist party,” according to the platform it adopted during the convention.

“We will strive for a change of government and thereby allow the people to grab their sovereignty,” Otsuka said in a speech.

However, the road ahead for the DPP looks rather tough. Opinion polls show the public support rates for both hovering at around just 1 percent or below.

Many of the DPP’s policy pledges sound similar to those of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, advocates labor reforms and higher support for child-rearing households — both signature policies championed by the left-leaning opposition.

Most of Kibo no To and the CDP once belonged to the Democratic Party, but the DP was forced to break up shorty before the October snap election called by Abe because Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who was Kibo no To’s leader at the time, refused to let liberals join her fledgling party.

So why get back together?

Tamaki told a news conference after the convention that Kibo no To and DP decided it would be in their best interests to regroup to survive the nationwide round of local elections next spring, the Upper House election in July 2019, and another potential snap election.

“I believe it’s possible that the Lower House will be dissolved during this Diet session” by the prime minister to call a snap election, Tamaki said. “We need to prepare to fight.”

According to a policy paper released Monday, the DPP will oppose Abe’s plan to revise war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution to formalize the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces if the proposed revision leaves vague how far the legal scope of a “self-defense” mission can be stretched.

This means the DPP will fight Abe’s proposal to revise Article 9 in a way that “explicitly mentions” the SDF and defines its mission.

Japan also should maintain its traditional “exclusively defense-oriented posture,” the policy paper said.