On Wednesday, the Democratic Party for the People, one of the largest opposition groups in the Diet, formally proposed that the party dissolve. If approved, the move will allow members to join the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in order to form a new political party late next month that could see a membership of 150 lawmakers in total. In that case, it would become the nation’s largest opposition party and a serious challenge to the ruling coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

What is the current strength of the two parties in the Diet?

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has 89 members, including 56 in the 465-seat Lower House and 33 in the 242-seat Upper House. The Democratic Party for the People has 62 members, including 40 in the Lower House and 22 in the Upper House.

Both parties cooperate with each other in the Diet and during election campaigns. Cooperation includes coordinating Diet committee questions to the ruling parties and voting together on Diet legislation.

During election campaigns, the parties work together on election strategies, choose not to run candidates against each other in the same district and appear at each other’s campaign rallies.

What are some similarities and differences between the two parties?

Both parties oppose constitutional revision of the kind the LDP and Komeito have proposed, such as codifying the Self-Defense Forces. However, the DPP is positive towards discussion of changes to the Constitution while the CDP is negative towards the idea.

In addition to differences over the Constitution, they have also differed over the consumption tax increase. The CDP pledged to freeze the consumption hike tax to 10 percent and review corporate tax systems and income progressiveness. The DPP also said it was not necessary to raise the tax unless the economy had recovered. But following the tax introduction, and especially after the coronavirus hit, the DPP called for reducing it to 5 percent while the CDP said that, rather than reducing it, the government should prioritize aid to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In addition, the two parties have different views on nuclear power and cooperation with the Japan Communist Party. The center-left CDP supports doing away with nuclear power entirely. The DPP, which calls itself a reformist/centrist party, favors reducing reliance on nuclear power. Many of its members do not want to go as far as the CDP and eliminate it entirely.

The CDP and the DPP have cooperated with the Japan Communist Party in some local elections by supporting the same candidate, and the CDP leadership has indicated it would be open to discussions with the JCP about cooperation in national elections or working together in the Diet.

But some DPP members, including current party leader Yuichiro Tamaki and former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, have fundamental policy differences with it and are strongly opposed to any cooperation. They have said they will remain in the DPP after it dissolves rather than joining the new party centered around the CDP.

How did the two parties come about?

Both parties are descended from the former opposition Democratic Party. In 2017, just before the general election in September, the DP’s center-left members split from the party.

Many of the DP’s Lower House members initially decided to run in Yuriko Koike’s newly formed Kibo no To (Party of Hope) or as independents, while Upper House DP members remained. But more liberal members who found their request for endorsements rejected by Koike and the party then formed the CDP in early October 2017.

The more center-right DPP was formed in May 2018 as a merger between DP members and the Party of Hope. Then, in April 2019, it merged with former political heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa’s opposition Liberal Party.

Who is behind the merger to form a new party?

Japan’s largest confederation of trade unions, Rengo, is key to understanding the new party and what its policies will be.

Rengo has about 6.7 million members in affiliated and associated organizations. Its members are strong supporters of both parties, providing votes and campaign support including financial support.

Yet while Rengo as a whole has supported the CDP and the DPP, different trade unions within Rengo have traditionally been closer to one party or the other.

For example, the CDP has enjoyed past support from left-leaning public workers’ unions such as the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union, which, according to Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Labor statistics, had about 774,000 members as of 2019. It has also been supported by 116,000 member General Federation of Private Railway & Bus Workers’ Unions of Japan as well as the 243,000 Japan Postal Group Union.

The DPP has enjoyed the support of center-right sector unions such as the 210,000 member Federation of Electric Power and Industry Workers’ of Japan, which includes many people working in the nuclear power industry who are particularly opposed to the CDP’s zero nuclear power goal. The DPP also enjoys a lot of support from the 1.77 million member Japanese Federation of Textile, Chemical, Food, Commercial, Service, and General Worker’s Unions.

What happens next?

Once the DPP is officially dissolved, its members will be able to join a new party centered around the CDP.

The new party is also expected to include a small group of like-minded independent Diet members, and will be launched next month.

Key to a new party’s success will be how well former DPP members are integrated into a new party, and what, if any, cooperative agreements the new party pursues with other opposition parties, especially the JCP, at election time or in the Diet.

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