The second-largest opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People, on Friday absorbed a smaller opposition party in an attempt to bolster its strength ahead of an Upper House election this summer.
The DPP, a splinter of the now-defunct Democratic Party, will maintain its name and basic policies after being joined by members of the Liberal Party. The DPP formed last May.
“It’s the first step to creating an alternative to take over the reins of government in place of the Liberal Democratic Party (led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe),” Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the DPP, said at a news conference. “We’ll continue to call on others to join.”
With the merger, the Liberal Party will be disbanded. Six of its lawmakers will join the DPP.
The DPP now has 40 lawmakers in the more powerful Lower House, up from 37, and the number in the Upper House increased to 24 from 21, coming closer to those of the main opposition, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which has 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 24 in the House of Councilors.
However, discussions within the DPP on whether to unite with the smaller party, co-headed by Ichiro Ozawa, who was once a power broker in Japanese politics, lasted about seven hours from Thursday night before reaching the conclusion.
Some DPP lawmakers were against the merger and remain alert to the political influence of Ozawa.
Ozawa was credited with helping the DP oust the LDP from power in 2009 after 54 years of near continuous rule but later triggered a split in the then-governing party as he and his allies strongly opposed its push for a consumption tax hike.
Tamaki will remain as leader of the expanded party. Ozawa’s position has yet to be determined.
At the news conference, Ozawa urged Yukio Edano, leader of the CDP, to play an active role in working toward mobilizing forces of all opposition parties.
“It would be the best if CDP leader Yukio Edano makes a decision and tries gathering all opposition parties,” Ozawa said.