Speculation of further realignment in the opposition camp is simmering in the wake of the ruling coalition’s sweeping victory in last Sunday’s Lower House election. Chaos reigns in the upstart Kibo no To (Party of Hope), launched by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike just ahead of the campaign, following its disappointing result at the polls. Candidates who joined the party to jump on the popular governor’s bandwagon now blame Koike for their losses.
Koike has apologized for Kibo no To’s poor performance but will remain the party’s leader. However, she also says she will now leave national politics to the party’s Diet members and devote herself to her duties as Tokyo governor, raising the prospect that the party could effectively drift aimlessly without a substantial leader at the helm.
Shinzo Abe is set to be re-elected prime minister in a special Diet session convening next week, with his Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito alliance — and its two-thirds majority grip of the Lower House — solidly behind him. In contrast, the opposition parties remain as fragmented as, or perhaps even more so than, when they entered the campaign. Members of the opposition camp need to realize it’s their duty to present voters with an alternative choice to the governing parties, and do what they need to do to rebuild their camp — whether or not that requires more regrouping of their forces.
Basking in yet another landslide win, Abe emphasized that it was the first time in nearly half a century that his LDP captured a Lower House majority in three general elections in a row — 2012, 2014 and last Sunday. As if to demonstrate his own role in the winning streak, he went on declare that it was the first time in the LDP’s history of over 60 years that the feat was achieved under the same party president.
True enough, but at least part of that has been aided by the weak and splintered opposition. In particular, the Democratic Party of Japan — and its successor the Democratic Party — bears the most blame due to its failure as the No. 1 opposition force to regain voter support since its crushing defeat and fall from power in 2012.
It was Koike’s launch of Kibo no To — incorporating some lawmakers who had deserted the DP in recent months — that finally triggered the DP’s breakup just before the campaign started. Seiji Maehara admits that his decision as DP chief in late September to have all DP members run on the ticket of Koike’s new party was a “gamble.” This turned out to be a premature decision, since Koike’s subsequent declaration that she would only selectively accept DP members into her party — and that she would reject members who do not follow her conservative line on key policy issues — ended up splintering the party’s ranks.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), comprising members led by Yukio Edano who shunned Koike’s selective admission into her party, emerged as the No. 1 opposition force as the votes were counted. The momentum behind Koike’s party quickly dissipated — with the negative image of her “excluding” many DP members believed to have alienated voters — and Kibo no To ended up winning fewer seats than the CDP.
Along with those who fought the election on the tickets of either the CDP or Kibo no To, many senior DP lawmakers — including former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and former party chief Katsuya Okada — ran and won as independents. On Thursday, 13 of them formed a parliamentary group of their own, with one of the members saying the group may eventually consider a joint grouping with the CDP or Kibo no To. There are also DP members in the Upper House — where they remain the No. 1 opposition force.
CDP leader Edano is reportedly cautious about an immediate regrouping with other forces, including the DP-affiliated independents and the DP members in the Upper House. Edano told a meeting of CDP members in the Diet on Tuesday, “People’s expectations for us would disappear if we’re viewed as being involved in the sheer game of numbers in Nagatacho,” indicating that the party won’t rush toward a regrouping or tieup with other forces without policy agreements.
Past experience shows that opposition realignment without common policies or ideals will not last long. At the same time, numbers do matter. The seats won by the CDP amount to less than a fifth of the LDP’s. The opposition camp needs to find a way to put its forces together to serve as a viable contender to the ruling coalition.