At a Feb. 8-9 party convention of the Democratic Party of Japan held in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, party head Banri Kaieda said his party will fiercely confront the Abe administration, which he called a “raging horse,” and will push politics aimed at protecting people’s lives and jobs.

Kaieda also criticized the Abe administration for its forceful enactment of the state secrets law, its attempt to change the government’s long-standing constitutional interpretation of the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution as prohibiting Japan from exercising the right to collective self-defense, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December.

He said the administration is undermining a system of government based on constitutional principles, including the principle that sovereign power rests with the people, and stressed the need to rectify narrow-minded nationalism in order to achieve “open national interests and a wide range of human security.”

Kaieda’s characterization of the Abe administration is apt, and the DPJ’s goal that he mentioned is reasonable. At a time when the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party are trying to get closer to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in matters related to constitutional issues, the DPJ’s role as the No. 1 opposition party is crucial. Kaieda should make serious efforts to translate what he said at the party convention into concrete policy proposals to counter moves by the Abe administration.

Since the DPJ has only 115 Diet members in both chambers of the Diet and its approval rating in a Kyodo News poll taken in late January was only 7.8 percent, he faces an uphill battle. But he should not shrink from his duty.

The most important issue facing Japan at this moment is whether Japan should exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Changing the government’s traditional constitutional interpretation on the issue carries the danger of completely changing the basic nature of postwar Japan, turning it into a country that attaches more importance to military matters than to improving the well-being of people and settling international disagreements through diplomacy.

Regrettably the DPJ could not present a unified party view on Abe’s attempt to change the interpretation. Kaieda must make strenuous efforts to unite the party in opposing Abe’s move. If the DPJ fails to confront the Abe administration with regard to the issue, it will not be performing the role of a “healthy opposition party,” a phrase Kaieda used at the party convention.

Kaieda pointed out that Abe’s economic policy is widening the gap between Tokyo and rural areas, between major companies and small and medium-size ones, and between regular and irregular workers. He said that the administration’s attempt to loosen labor regulations and lower nursing care services has increased people’s worries about employment and their overall well-being, and that “pork barrel” largesse in the form of unessential and non-urgent public works projects will delay the nation’s financial reconstruction.

Kaieda’s analysis will likely receive considerable public support. The DPJ needs to present concrete policy options on these issues.

The DPJ should not abandon its effort to wrest power back from the LDP. To help achieve this goal, the party should thoroughly review its past election manifesto and make policy proposals that are feasible, convincing, and distinct from the Abe administration’s policies. The DPJ also should make thorough preparations for a series of local elections to be held in 2015. These contests will put the party’s mettle to test.

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