When Renho was elected head of the Democratic Party in September, there were hopes that with the popular lawmaker in charge the largest opposition party might regain its support among voters. Such hopes have quickly been dashed. According to the latest Kyodo News poll, the DP's popular support rating stands at a miserable 8 percent — trailing far behind the nearly 45 percent claimed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The cause of the DP's dismal support rate is clear. The party has failed to give a clear message to the people on what kind of government it seeks to establish and how it would accomplish this goal. Since the Abe administration and the LDP-Komeito alliance hold a dominant grip on power, the DP urgently needs to present voters with a viable alternative and the path to achieve it. This is all the more important given the lingering speculation that Abe will dissolve the Lower House for another snap election sometime soon.

If the DP wants to tackle the LDP-Komeito bloc, a simple political calculation shows that the party has no other choice but to cooperate with other opposition forces — including the Japanese Communist Party — in one way or another in the next election. Still, the DP continues to take an ambivalent attitude toward such cooperation, since it is sandwiched between the JCP, which calls for solid election campaign tie-ups as a step toward forming an opposition-led governing coalition, and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which is the DP's main organized supporter but opposes creating a coalition that would include the JCP. Rengo doesn't even want the DP to engage in campaign cooperation with the JCP.