For about eight years since the defection of numerous members weakened the former Democratic Party of Japan in the late phase of the DPJ-led government, the nation’s opposition parties have had a troubled history of unsuccessful alignments and realignments.
The new main opposition party to be created through the planned merger of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People is expected to be joined by about 150 lawmakers, the first such large force since the 2017 breakup of the Democratic Party, a successor to the DPJ.
With the foundations of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government no longer as strong as before, the new party will face the test of whether it will be received by voters as a force that can truly represent the will of the people, rather than being viewed as a mere attempt to make up the numbers for a major election.
DPP Director-General Hirofumi Hirano met with his CDP counterpart, Tetsuro Fukuyama, last week to inform him of the DPP’s decision to combine with the CDP.
After the meeting, Fukuyama told reporters, “We’ll make efforts to be recognized as an opposition party capable of taking power.” He called on as many DPP members as possible to join the new party.
In the House of Representatives election in August 2009, the DPJ won more than 300 seats in the then 480-seat lower chamber of parliament, and wrested power from the Liberal Democratic Party.
But an internal rift over a consumption tax increase prompted senior Lower House lawmaker Ichiro Ozawa and others to secede from the DPJ in 2012.
In the Lower House election later in 2012, the DPJ suffered a crushing defeat, securing only 57 seats, and it was ousted from government.
In 2016, the DP was created through the merger of the DPJ and Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), with 156 lawmakers. But one and a half years later, some members left to set up the CDP or to join the Party of Hope.
Those who remained in the DP and many in the Party of Hope joined forces later to establish the DPP. But neither the CDP nor the DPP has been large enough to compete with the LDP.
This time, the CDP made careful preparations, after it failed in its attempt to absorb the DPP in January.
Fukuyama held behind-the-scenes talks with Hirano, who was positive about a merger, while securing support from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, the key supporter of the two opposition parties.
In July, the CDP proposed that the two parties merge after disbanding themselves. It made a number of concessions, including accepting DPP leader Yuichiro Tamaki’s demand that the new party choose its name in a democratic way, instead of simply taking over the name of the CDP.
As a result, a majority of the DPP’s 62 lawmakers are expected to participate in the new party. Including the CDP’s 89 lawmakers and 20 nonaffiliated lawmakers led separately by former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, the new party will likely have at least around 150 lawmakers, according to Fukuyama. Of them, the number of Lower House members is expected to be on par with the DPJ’s 115 immediately before the party took power in 2009.
But DPP leader Tamaki plans to steer clear of the new party, opting instead to create another new party, while Lower House member Shiori Yamao, who is close to Tamaki, is believed to have discussed working together with Taro Yamamoto, leader of opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi.
DPP lawmakers backed by labor unions, including for the electric power industry, are cautious about joining the merged party as the new party’s planned policy platform calls for getting rid of nuclear power.
Some of them are exploring the possibility of setting up a third new party, even apart from Tamaki’s, adding another element of confusion to the ongoing opposition realignment.
The opposition camp’s history of mergers and breakups reflected policy differences as well as emotional conflicts.
Okada told reporters on Thursday, “We can’t regain public trust unless we are united under the party leader.”
But the DPP lawmakers planning to join the new party with the CDP include conservative members who deep down are not in line with the banner of constitutionalism championed by CDP leader Yukio Edano. The awkward membership structure suggests that the merger is more like hurried work by lawmakers anxious about the two parties’ lackluster standings to put together a makeshift large mass in the run-up to the next Lower House election.
One person close to the CDP said the new party “will probably be thrown into trouble soon.”