The Democratic Party for the People approved Wednesday a proposal to merge with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a hard-fought achievement forming a more organized, numerically viable opposition force to counter Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In a general meeting held at a hotel in Tokyo, a majority of DPP lawmakers backed an agreement by secretary generals of both parties that would establish a new party and set its basic platform, manifesto and rules on electing its new leadership.
The agreement represents a repudiation of DPP leader Yuichiro Tamaki, who abruptly announced last week that he intended to divide up the party instead of unilaterally joining forces with the CDP. Tamaki has been seen as an obstacle — even by some members of his own party — to efforts to unite the two parties to create a new, merged party.
“I’d like to get a conclusion today about the merger talk with the CDP, which has been going on since the end of the last year, with a desire to form a bigger force and change Japanese politics,” Tamaki said at the beginning of the meeting. “By putting an end to the DPP and starting a fresh chapter, I look forward to drawing a constructive, forward-looking conclusion.”
Hirofumi Hirano, the DPP’s secretary-general who led the merger initiative, and at least 20 DPP lawmakers are expected to break ranks with Tamaki and join the CDP, bringing the total membership of the new entity to around 150 across both chambers of the Diet.
At the same time, Tamaki and a dozen of other lawmakers hope to continue the DPP, with plans to take over the party’s regional organizations nationwide. The group is expected to include Seiji Maehara and Shiori Yamao, who have expressed aversion to joining up with liberal forces, preferring a center-right alignment instead.
Besides his objection to the CDP’s liberal ideology, Tamaki also expressed apprehension over what he saw as an attempt by the CDP to plunder his party’s ¥5 billion in funds.
Wednesday’s development is set to provide a glimpse into the monthslong and sometimes disorganized merger undertaking, highlighting divisions even within the DPP leadership.
Even after Tamaki’s declaration on the party split last week, some prefectural DPP assembly members from Hokkaido and Fukui prefectures pressed him to change his mind, with an executive committee member initially saying the party as a whole had not agreed to his proposal on the party division.
The two opposition parties attempted to consolidate their power ahead of an ordinary Diet session last January, but failed. Although the CDP was united on the merger plan to boost their numbers and clout from the beginning, the DPP, which is composed of more centrally positioned lawmakers, was split over the idea due to policy differences with their counterpart.
But alarmed by the prospect of a possible snap election after the novel coronavirus state of emergency was lifted, the two parties quietly resuscitated talks in June to bring the two together. The secretary generals from the two parties have been meeting to bridge their differences over policies and administrative procedures.
The internal fissures have run deep, as was demonstrated earlier this year when challenges to merging the two parties proved insurmountable.
Even if the merger goes ahead, observers note that disagreements over critical policies such as nuclear power, the consumption tax and constitutional amendment could eventually thwart the new party’s legitimacy and ability to counter the ruling block as a viable and formidable alternative.
Frustrated at the DPP for squandering time, the CDP conceded its demand to decide a new party’s name with a vote by lawmakers. Nevertheless, despite that and other concessions, Tamaki was not moved to fully integrate his party into the CDP.