The Democratic Party and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) have finally agreed to merge next month, creating a force with roughly 150 lawmakers in both Diet chambers combined. Leaders of the two parties say they will call on members of other opposition parties and independents to join so they can create a force capable of standing up against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's dominant ruling coalition. It's entirely rational for the divided opposition to converge. But they should realize that merely increasing in size — which in itself isn't much in the case of DPJ-Ishin merger — will not win them back the trust of the voters.
DPJ leader Katsuya Okada and Ishin no To chief Yorihisa Matsuno began the merger talks last August when they were the largest and second-largest opposition forces. But their talks were derailed when the departure of then-Osaka Mayor and Ishin founder Toru Hashimoto and his loyalists to create yet another new force broke up the party. Discussions between the DPJ and what remained of Ishin — which formed a parliamentary alliance in the Lower House in December — have since been hampered by differences over the way they should merge, with the DPJ saying that it should simply absorb the smaller force and Ishin leaders arguing that both parties first disband and then create a new one.
The agreement reached by the DPJ and Ishin leaders last week — in which the DPJ will absorb most of the Ishin members but will also change its name, supposedly to give the impression of creating a new party — appears to be a compromise driven by concern that further delay in their merger talks would leave them again off guard in case Abe should resort to another snap election of the Lower House, possibly along with this summer's Upper House election. The DPJ-Ishin union will boost their Lower House seats to 93, but their Upper House strength will remain 59, since the five Ishin lawmakers in the upper chamber — all elected in 2010 on the proportional representation ticket of a now-defunct party — are not allowed to move to the DPJ under the Diet Law.