Having witnessed the enactment of the government’s security legislation despite the surge in popular opposition to the bills, citizens who took part in the movement feel an acute need to change the composition of the Diet.
In response to this public will, Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii took the lead and advocated uniting opposition parties to create what he called a people’s coalition government. Talks are now under way among opposition parties on possible cooperation.
Among industrialized democracies, Japan has a relatively large number of political parties that hold seats in the national legislature. Currently, the Liberal Democratic Party dwarfs all other parties like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, but in some European countries, with Switzerland as a typical example, small parties coexist, each representing a group with a specific ethnic, linguistic or religious identity.
In Japan, however, no such social division exists, except in the case of Okinawa. In this respect, the existence of so many parties in Japan can’t be explained with a traditional political science theory.
Since around 1990, when the old LDP was mired in what appeared to be an endless chain of corruption, similar to what plagued Italy’s Christian Democratic Party, a sentiment critical of established political parties has permeated Japanese politics.
Unlike Italy, however, Japan did not experience a political realignment that involved a dominant party. One party after another claiming it would challenge the LDP emerged but quickly became obsolete.
Then came the new “third pole” parties with an agenda of criticizing the established parties, but many of them collapsed due to internal strife or money scandals. One reason Japan has so many political parties is that the breakups and mergers only take place in the opposition camp.
The Democratic Party of Japan did manage to take power for a time, but it hasn’t been able to sustain enough force to play a significant part in a system in which two major parties compete for power. If the DPJ’s performance in the Upper House election next year ends in a result similar to its performance in the 2013 race, the party will be reduced to holding less than 20 percent of the Diet’s seats, disqualifying itself as a party capable of someday aiming for power again. That would be a heavy blow not just for the DPJ but also for Japanese democracy.
In its disregard for constitutionalism, the Abe administration seems to be on the brink of becoming a supra-constitutional force. It has rejected the joint call by five opposition parties to hold an extraordinary Diet session, despite the provision in Article 53 of the Constitution that stipulates the Cabinet must convene such a session when demanded by a quarter or more of the members of either chamber.
Not just to keep this sort of unconstitutional management of government in check, but also to maintain the competitive nature of party politics, it is imperative that the opposition parties unite their forces in preparation for the coming Upper House election.
The JCP has proposed establishing a people’s coalition government for the sake of abolishing the security legislation. However, it would be difficult under current circumstances for the various players in the opposition camp to agree on a road map going beyond cooperating in the Upper House election campaign and leading to a change of government.
This is because while they may be united in their opposition to the Abe administration and the security laws, they’ll need to do more — like hammer out an agreement on various policy matters — if they are going to take power.
Since Komeito, the LDP’s ruling coalition partner, strongly opposes simultaneous elections for both Diet chambers, the election next summer will likely be an Upper House campaign alone. Triennial Upper House elections, like the midterms in the United States, tend to be a venue for venting voters’ frustration with the incumbent administration.
The opposition parties should first place priority on reducing the seats held by the ruling alliance. To achieve this goal, they should quickly agree on fielding their candidates in a unified manner in those Upper House districts where only one seat is up for grabs. Their common agenda can focus solely on punishing the Abe administration.
The other day I had a chance to talk with DPJ Upper House member Teruhiko Mashiko, who will be seeking re-election next year in Fukushima Prefecture, where only one seat will be in contention.
He said the opposition camp can unite on the sole agenda of pacifism and phasing out of nuclear energy and that he stands a good chance of winning as long as the JCP refrains from fielding a candidate in his district. If the opposition parties agree to run a joint campaign to take on the LDP in Fukushima Prefecture, it will certainly have a nationwide impact.
True, reservations about and distrust of the JCP exist among DPJ lawmakers. But can they now afford the luxury of rejecting such a joint campaign? The most urgent task for the opposition camp is to end the LDP’s domination of the political landscape and DPJ lawmakers should realize this is their priority mission.
If the LDP loses in the next Upper House election, the Abe administration will face more difficulties in running the government. That can be a start for changing the political atmosphere and it would become realistically possible for the opposition forces to draw up a vision for a change of government on the two principles of international harmony and social justice.
Australia saw the creation of a new administration headed by a moderate conservative prime minister and the elections in Canada brought a change of government with the creation of a left-of-center administration. I would like to see Japan follow suit.
Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.
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