Commentary / Japan | SENTAKU MAGAZINE

The pathetic state of the DPJ

Goshi Hosono, policy board chairman of the No. 1 opposition Democratic Party of Japan, was conspicuously absent from a Diet committee session on May 20, in which Katsuya Okada, head of the party, engaged in a one-on-one debate with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Although Hosono said he could not attend the meeting because he had to deliver a speech at Chuo University, behind his absence was an intra-party power struggle.

Prior to the debate, he and Yukio Edano, DPJ secretary-general, had a heated argument over legislative bills submitted by the Abe administration that would drastically change Japan’s postwar security policies.

Hosono insisted that the DPJ should prepare its own counterproposal while Edano favored a different approach of killing the government-sponsored bills by attacking many contradictions that he claims they contain.

This was not just an ideological dispute between them; a view has emerged that Hosono may be aiming for splitting the party. Since DPJ members in the Diet have opposing views among themselves on matters related to national security, any attempt to work out a counterproposal will bring to the surface the discord among them.

Since Okada returned to the helm of the party in January, there has been a deep schism between the Okada-Edano team and those who follow Hosono. Hosono is said to have been fed up with the fact that he has been kept away from discussions among top party executives despite the important position he holds.

Hosono is not alone. Kumiko Hayashi, an Upper House member and chairwoman of the DPJ publicity committee, has also been shut out of important meetings, reportedly because she is married to Hiroshige Seko, a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who is currently serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary.

It looks impossible for the DPJ, which is far from being united, to take the initiative in taking on the predominant majority held by the ruling coalition by reorganizing the opposition camp.

It appeared that the DPJ had a good opportunity for taking such an initiative when Kenji Eda resigned as head of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), another opposition group, after its pet theme of administratively reorganizing the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture — an idea pushed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a supreme adviser for the party — was voted down in a May 17 referendum.

Yorihisa Matsuno succeeded Eda, and it was he who took the initiative. He declared in his native prefecture of Kumamoto on May 24 that he would seek to establish an opposition group of at least 100 legislators, including those of the DPJ, before the end of the year, adding that once that was done the new group could win a majority in the Lower House just by going through one election.

While the DPJ leadership did not respond, Hosono welcomed Matsuno’s idea. He said that since Matsuno was a former DPJ member and both he and Hosono were first elected as Lower House members in 2000, they have a congenial relationship and that he has former DPJ colleagues in Matsuno’s party. Also keeping contact with Matsuno behind the scene are former Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and ex-Senior Vice Defense Minister Akihisa Nagashima, both of the DPJ.

Meanwhile, Ichiro Ozawa, a former DPJ head who now heads the group called People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends, has started making a move toward realigning the opposition camp. On May 20, Ozawa held a “reunion” with seven Lower House members who were his followers when was with the DPJ. Of the seven, five now belong to Ishin no To and the two others to the DPJ.

Ozawa had to move quickly as a gubernatorial election is scheduled for Sept. 6 in his home prefecture of Iwate. Gov. Takuya Tasso, who is close to Ozawa, will be challenged by Tatsuo Hirano, an Upper House member and former minister in charge of reconstruction. While both Tasso and Hirano used to be close followers of Ozawa, Hirano now has the backing of Toshihiro Nikai, who had left the LDP together with Ozawa but subsequently returned to the fold and now holds a powerful post as chairman of the LDP General Council. Yoshinobu Takahasi, a former secretary to Ozawa and former Lower House member, who has detailed knowledge about the constituency’s situation, will direct Hirano’s campaign

On Oct. 25, there will be an Upper House by-election in the prefecture because Hirano has to relinquish his Upper House seat in order to run in the gubernatorial election.

Ozawa’s political life will hinge on the outcome of these two elections, which can be described as an “intra-family feud.” In speaking to those who attended the “reunion,” Ozawa stressed the importance of the realignment of the opposition forces. He said that winning the two elections will serve as a chance to underline the importance of the opposition forces uniting.

But Ozawa’s idea of regrouping the opposition camp does not call for the DPJ to play a central role. Indeed, he reportedly told the participants in the “reunion” that Ishin no To should lead the restructuring. This is because there remains a strong anti-Ozawa sentiment within the DPJ.

The ruling LDP, meanwhile, has started approaching labor organizations that were close to the now-defunct Democratic Socialist Party, via Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist lay organization that is the main supporter of Komeito. Labor unions have been main supporters of the DPJ. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who has long been critical of the DPJ’s reliance on labor unions, has said that the party could not expect to revive itself unless it decides either to remain as a small group relying on trade unions or to make a fresh start by cutting off its ties with them.

A group within Ishin no To close to Osaka’s Hashimoto will never agree to merge with the DPJ, which includes many lawmakers originally from labor unions. The DPJ leadership would not be able to turn its back on ex-labor union members centering around Upper House Vice President Azuma Koshiishi without facing a risk of splitting the party. But in choosing DPJ candidates for the Upper House election to come one year later, priority is being given to those who came from labor unions.

With the opposition camp, notably the DPJ, in tatters, everything is working to Abe’s advantage. Although his tenure as LDP president ends this fall, there is every indication that he will be re-elected unopposed because the only possible candidate who could oppose him, former LDP General Council Chairwoman Seiko Noda, has been persuaded by Nikai not to run.

On the evening of May 11, Abe phoned Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain to congratulate him on the election victory scored by the Conservatives. Cameron is said to have told Abe, “Shinzo, let us work together for another five years.” Abe reportedly refrained from responding.

Even if he is re-elected as the LDP chief this year, the party rules preclude him from staying in power for more than three years after the re-election. If he had said “yes” to Cameron, it would have been an indirect indication of his desire to have his term prolonged. But he exercised self-restraint and stopped short of saying “yes” to Cameron.

But as things stand now, it may not be an unrealistic dream for Abe to remain in power until the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics — an event he himself worked so hard to bring to the capital.

Abe’s desire to remain in office until then is not unrelated to a view circulating in the public that the No. 1 opposition party, the DPJ, should be disbanded.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the June issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering political, social and economic scenes.