In an Upper House by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture on April 28, Mr. Kiyoshi Ejima, the Liberal Democratic Party candidate supported by Komeito, overwhelmingly defeated former Justice Minister Hideo Hiraoka, supported by the Democratic Party of Japan, and two other candidates. The election result boosts Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hopes to end opposition control of the Upper House by winning a nationwide election to be held this summer.
For DPJ chief Banri Kaieda, the election result underlined the fact that he is at a critical point in his effort to revitalize the party, which is languishing following its miserable defeat in the Dec. 16 Lower House election. It is crucial for Mr. Kaieda to set a political agenda clearly distinguished from the LDP’s.
In doing so, he should champion the party platform, which says that the DPJ will rectify unjust inequality in society and create society in which every citizen can live a wholesome and cultured life with the help of a sustainable social welfare system.
Mr. Ejima, a former mayor of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, garnered 287,604 votes. In an attempt to collect votes from a wider base, Mr. Hiraoka left the DPJ and ran as an independent. Although he received support not only from the DPJ but also from the Social Democratic Party and Midori no Kaze (Green Wind Party), he only got 129,784 votes.
By winning the Yamaguchi by-election, the LDP’s strength in the Upper House increased to 84 seats, one seat less than the DPJ’s 85 seats. But the DPJ’s seats include a seat held by Mr. Kunihiko Muroi, who tendered a notice with the DPJ that he will leave the party.
To stem the DPJ’s further decline, party leaders such as Mr. Kaieda and DPJ Secretary General Goshi Hosono campaigned in Yamaguchi Prefecture several times but to no avail. They pointed to undesirable side effects of Mr. Abe’s economic policy and criticized his attempt to weaken Article 96 of the Constitution, a clause designed to protect basic constitutional principles against an imprudent revision, and his policy on nuclear energy.
The DPJ must carefully examine whether their policy statements were fully appreciated by voters and whether the way to present their policies was effective. Clearly they failed to rouse interest in the poll. Voter turnout was only 38.68 percent, much lower than the 61.91 percent registered in the 2010 Upper House election.
The DPJ leaders should be confident about the DPJ’s platform, which also says that the DPJ will translate into reality the Constitution’s principles such as sovereignty resting with the people, the upholding of basic human rights and pacifism.
Because a constitutional revision will be a main issue in the coming Upper House election, Mr. Kaieda should rally DPJ members around opposition to the LDP’s attempt to weaken Article 96. He should forget seeking election cooperation with the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party and muster the courage for a showdown with party members who oppose his policy.