OSAKA – A newly expanded Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan was formally launched Tuesday with 150 Diet members, making it the nation’s largest opposition party amid continuing speculation a snap general election could be held within weeks.
But the party faces challenges in convincing the public it’s more than simply an updated version of the old Democratic Party of Japan, which held power between 2009 and 2012 before losing popularity and being ousted by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito coalition. The center-left CDP’s leader, Yukio Edano, and its four top officials are all former members of the DPJ.
In his remarks to the new party, Edano said it was now time to challenge the ruling LDP-Komeito coalition in an extraordinary Diet session, to be convened in the fall, on everything from past scandals involving outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the government’s controversial decisions to spend public money on face masks earlier this year in response to the novel coronavirus.
“The Suga administration is about to be launched. If it attempts to escape from discussing controversies in the parliament by selfishly dissolving the Diet and calling a general election, it’s proof that it’s engaging in politics with the people in an attempt to maintain power,” he said.
Edano is a veteran of the former DPJ administration, and has served as chief Cabinet secretary and economy minister.
His new party includes 107 members in the Lower House and 43 Upper House members. Of these, 88 are from the previous CDP, 40 came from the Democratic Party for the People, a dozen members were previously unaffiliated and a few were in a small group formed by former DPJ Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Other former DPJ members have also secured top leadership positions. Upper House member Tetsuro Fukuyama, who was vice foreign minister under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in 2009 and then vice chief Cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Naoto Kan in 2010, has been named as the CDP’s secretary-general.
Fukuyama is particularly close to Edano, and was vice chief Cabinet secretary when Edano was chief Cabinet secretary in 2011. The two men also founded the previous CDP in 2017, and the Edano-Fukuyama partnership is expected to keep the new version of the CDP largely in line with the policies of its previous incarnation.
Kenta Izumi, a former DPJ member who had been with the DPP before the merger but agreed to join the CDP, ran against Edano for the presidency and will serve as the party’s policy research chairman. He served in the same post with the DPP.
Jun Azumi, a Lower House member who had been with the previous CDP, is the new party’s Diet affairs committee chair and another former DPJ member who, in 2011 and 2012, served as finance minister in Noda’s Cabinet.
Hirofumi Hirano, the new deputy head and election strategy chair, rounds out the quartet of former DPJ officials in top leadership positions in the new CDP. Hirano served as chief cabinet secretary in Hatoyama’s Cabinet and as education minister in the Noda Cabinet.
The new CDP leadership may have little time to prepare itself if a snap election is called, possibly as soon as late next month. Edano and newly elected LDP president Yoshihide Suga have already clashed in questions over a possible rise in the consumption tax rate.
Last week, Suga said in a television interview that it may be necessary to raise the tax, currently at 10 percent, in the future, in order to deal with the nation’s graying society. In a separate television interview, Edano criticized the comments, saying that it was necessary instead to debate whether to lower the tax.
As president, Edano will play a central role in the new party, but he will also have to deal with the demands of heavyweight veteran members.
These include former left-leaning Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the more right-leaning former Prime Minister Noda, the notoriously stubborn former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and, perhaps most headstrong of all, Ichiro Ozawa.
Ozawa is one of the most powerful and controversial opposition politicians of the last three decades.
A former LDP secretary-general in the early 1990s, he left the party in 1993 with a group of lawmakers that briefly took over the government from the LDP — the first time it had lost power since it was established in 1955.
But in 1994, the LDP returned to power by tying up with longtime adversaries of the Japan Socialist Party in a coalition government.
Ozawa would play a key role in the establishment of the Democratic Party of Japan, which came to power in 2009. He exerted a strong, behind-the-scenes influence on Hatoyama in particular. Then, in 2012, Ozawa bolted the DPJ to form the People’s Life First party, which ultimately led to the end of the Noda government.
For these reasons Ozawa is disliked or distrusted by many in both the opposition and ruling parties for his maverick ways.
While in the DPJ, Edano and Ozawa had a bad relationship. But Ozawa has once again played a key role as an intermediary between the previous CDP and the DPP, helping to forge a merger between the two parties.
The result was former DPP head Yuichiro Tamaki finding himself isolated as most members of his party joined Edano’s CDP. As the new CDP begins its work, Edano owes a lot to Ozawa.
That could be problematic within the new CDP as it works to project unity. It could also impact discussions with other opposition parties about possible election campaign cooperation, or working together in the Diet.
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