Still reeling from their general election loss and asking what went wrong under the leadership of Yukio Edano, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is expected to see a change at the top by the end of this year.

Edano met with CDP members of parliament Tuesday to explain his decision to resign and decide the timing for the election of a new leader. Possible dates include a Nov. 21 campaign kickoff, with voting on Nov. 30, or a schedule beginning and ending a day later.

But whoever takes over from Edano will have to figure out how to regain the public’s trust that the party can govern effectively and change the perception that all it does is criticize the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition. Just as importantly, the CDP must decide what kind of cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party, if any, would be most effective in gaining the support of the public — and therefore new seats.

The CDP, which had 110 seats prior to the Oct. 31 poll, entered into a pre-election agreement with the JCP and other smaller parties in the hope of increasing that tally by running unified candidates that would not split the opposition vote — instead, the party ended up with only 96 lawmakers. Losers included heavyweight political veteran Ichiro Ozawa and deputy leader Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who also failed to return to parliament under the proportional representation system.

“My inadequacy (as party leader) is why this happened,” Edano told party leaders after the defeat, adding he would resign so the CDP can regroup before next summer’s Upper House election. CDP Secretary-General Tetsuro Fukuyama will also step down to take responsibility for the losses.

Whoever gets the post will first have to reflect on why the CDP lost so badly.

Kentaro Yamamoto, a politics professor at Hokkai-Gakuen University, said that Edano should be given credit for his efforts in building the CDP, which emerged from a split in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in 2017, even as he failed to show voters what exactly the party would do if it took power.

“Edano should be commended for his effort to develop the CDP, which was a small force when it was created four years ago, into a major opposition party,” Yamamoto said.

A campaign flag that reads
A campaign flag that reads “Let’s Change” is displayed at an event site for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward on Tuesday. | BLOOMBERG

The CDP was formed in 2017 following a merger between Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and the DPJ. Edano and five other former DPJ members who opposed the merger with Koike’s group instead formed the CDP as a group to the left of Kibo no To.

In that year’s Lower House election, the CDP picked up 54 seats to become the main opposition party. Following last year’s merger with the Democratic Party for the People, the CDP swelled to 150 members in the Upper and Lower Houses.

In the recent election, the CDP stood in opposition to ruling party initiatives including those on collective self-defense and a national referendum on constitutional revision, as well as the LDP’s energy policy and coronavirus response, on the last point calling for a “COVID-zero” approach. Edano heavily criticized what the LDP and Komeito were doing, and often said the politics of former Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga were “intolerable.”

“The leader of an opposition party is expected to play two roles: to criticize the governing party and to prepare for a change of government. But Edano may have leaned too much toward the former,” Yamamoto said.

Kensuke Takayasu, a political scientist at Seikei University’s faculty of law, offered a number of reasons for the failure of the party and of Edano’s leadership.

“Crucially and fatally, the CDP could not present a positive message to the electorate and convince voters that they were competent enough to run the country. Rather than drawing attention to the LDP government’s failures, they attracted (negative) attention to themselves and their cooperation with the JCP,” he said.

“Second, they alienated the trade unions (that traditionally support the CDP) by cooperating with the JCP, the enemy of the noncommunist trade unions.”

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano attends a debate session with other party leaders, ahead of Oct. 31 Lower House election, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Oct. 18. | REUTERS
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano attends a debate session with other party leaders, ahead of Oct. 31 Lower House election, at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Oct. 18. | REUTERS

He added that television played a role too, with commentators on some political programs often appearing to demonstrate more sympathy toward the positions of the LDP and even right-leaning Nippon Ishin no Kai instead of the CDP.

Furthermore, a lack of prominent local CDP governors and mayors to help candidates campaign in their districts was also a problem. Finally, Takayasu said, the CDP’s internet and social media campaigning proved ineffective.

“Edano needed a more proactive strategy, one that recognized the online world. A new CDP leader will need to have a positive story, vision, policy and outlook. He or she must find a way to cut through to the electorate and deliver their message.”

Yamamoto added that the main debate the CDP faces is whether or not to continue cooperation with the JCP in the Upper House election.

While that strategy failed to produce results in the Lower House poll, the JCP will not simply fade away and could garner votes that might otherwise have gone to CDP candidates if it decides to field its own candidates next summer. Thus, whoever gets the top job in the CDP will need to broaden the appeal of the party yet also deal diplomatically with the JCP.

“The CDP will have to chase two rabbits: consider the moderate-leaning voter in terms of policy, and consolidate candidates in single-member districts,” Yamamoto said. “The CDP will have to pool their wisdom to ensure the success of this difficult endeavor.”

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