CDPJ leadership candidates should debate measures to rebuild party

The fate of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan rests on a leadership election that may determine whether it can rebuild itself as a political party that can draw broad public support. In order to regain the public’s trust, it is necessary for the candidates to engage in realistic discussions about policies, party management and the nature of a united front with other opposition parties.

The CDPJ’s leadership election has kicked off and four candidates are vying for the position: Seiji Osaka, Junya Ogawa, Kenta Izumi and Chinami Nishimura. The party will elect the new leader at the party’s extraordinary convention on Nov. 30 to succeed Yukio Edano, who resigned following the party’s defeat in the House of Representatives election.

Osaka and Nishimura have been CDPJ members since its former version, Izumi was part of the former Democratic Party for the People, and Ogawa was an independent — all are CDPJ members after joining forces in September 2020.

This is the first time that rank-and-file party members and lower-ranked members known as supporters will be allowed to vote in the party’s leadership election. The question now is whether the party can utilize the election as an opportunity for the CDPJ to be recognized as having changed.

At a press conference, Osaka stressed, “I am determined to make the CDPJ a party that is of use to the people and that they can trust.” Ogawa said, “I will expand the scope of support and foster the party as one that can take the helm of government when a change of administration arrives.”

Izumi said: “The CDPJ has been burdened with the image of being all about criticism. I want to convert the party to one that will map out and propose policies.” Nishimura expressed her desire to “create a new kind of politics to support those who suffer from difficulties and walk along with them to solve problems for them.”

The biggest focus of the election will be the way the opposition parties will work together for the House of Councillors election next summer, especially regarding a united front with the Japanese Communist Party.

For the lower house election that just took place, the CDPJ concluded a policy agreement with the JCP and other parties through a citizens’ group. The party agreed to receive “limited cooperation without JCP cabinet ministers” in case the opposition bloc wins the election and proceeded to collectively back opposition candidates.

The united front showed some results such that CDPJ candidates defeated some prominent Liberal Democratic Party candidates in some single-seat constituencies, but just when seats should have increased overall, the CDPJ suffered in the proportional representation race for a net loss of 14 seats in a humiliating defeat.

The party’s policies on security and energy were seen as unrealistic, and it apparently was not able to attract the support of moderates and people who do not back any party.

With regard to the upper house election, all four candidates insisted that they will strive for creating “one-on-one” contests between the ruling and opposition blocs in constituencies where one seat is up for grabs.

In its platform, the CDPJ advocates the promotion of “realistic security and foreign policies.” The party needs to come up with concrete policies that match this philosophy and present a clear vision of the nation’s image. It is important for the CDPJ to distinguish itself from the ruling parties in terms of the economy, social security and other policies that directly affect the lives of the people.

The united front of opposition parties must be more than just an election tactic, and it must be a way to realize the party’s policies.

Another issue is how to change the management of the party, which has been called “Edano’s one-man show.” It is essential for the party to change its nature of relying on temporary tailwinds and to steadily build up its local organizations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 21, 2021.