CDPJ-JCP Election Collaboration in Japan Lacks any Realistic Policy Agreement

The term of office for current members of the House of Representatives is slated to expire in October this year. This is the fifth installment of a series that looks at strategies implemented by political parties as they prepare for the next lower house election.

The Japanese Communist Party has been staging a “rebellion” in Hokkaido, the stronghold of the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

In the previous House of Representatives election in 2017, the JCP did not field candidates in seven constituencies in Hokkaido in which the CDPJ had fielded candidates, with the two parties forming a unified front. However, in the next lower house election, the JCP has decided to field candidates in five Hokkaido constituencies where JCP candidates will be competing against CDPJ candidates for seats.

The current version of the CDPJ was launched in 2020. The previous version of the party had the same name.

Seiji Osaka, the representative of the CDPJ’s Hokkaido chapter, which has 13 Diet members from the lower house and the House of Councillors, expressed his willingness to coordinate the issue. “To fight together, you need to consult with your partner. We want to try to find the best formation.”

However, there are widespread concerns among the candidates that they will fall together unless the situation changes.

Former lower house lawmaker Kenko Matsuki plans to run in Hokkaido Constituency No. 2 as a CDPJ candidate.

“It was decided that I would run in this constituency once again. Please give me your support,” Matsuki said while stumping in Kita Ward, Sapporo, on Dec. 17, in temperatures as low as minus 4 C.

In the 2017 lower house election, Matsuki ran in the constituency as a Kibo no To (the Party of Hope) candidate, securing 74,425 votes. He lost to former agriculture minister Takamori Yoshikawa of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who gathered 104,824 votes. The JCP candidate won 52,626 votes.

The votes secured by Matsuki and the JCP candidate combined would have exceeded the number secured by Yoshikawa.

A by-election will be held in the constituency in April, after the resignation on Dec. 22 of Yoshikawa over alleged involvement in a bribery scandal.

Matsuki intends to get his revenge in the by-election as a candidate on the CDPJ ticket. “No matter who other candidates are, I will do my best. I want to produce a result in the structure of a one-on-one election race between ruling and opposition parties,” he said, pinning hopes on cooperation with the JCP.

The JCP had often not fielded candidates in national elections, prioritizing a united front among opposition parties. But in the next lower house election, the JCP has already fielded 125 candidates nationwide. JCP candidates will compete for seats against CDPJ candidates in 66 constituencies.

“We want to ask the CDPJ for some constituencies in which candidates from the JCP can be the unified candidate, unlike in past election cooperation agreements under which the JCP unilaterally dropped its candidates,” said JCP secretariat head Akira Koike, with the by-election in mind.

A decrease in votes secured in proportional representation races is thought to be behind the JCP move.

The party won 6.06 million votes in the proportional representation race in the 2014 lower house election and one seat in the Hokkaido block. However, the number of votes secured had dropped to 4.4 million in the 2017 lower house election and the JCP lost its seat in the block.

The JCP is aiming to increase its votes in the proportional representation race through its efforts to secure single-seat constituencies.

At the second general meeting of the JCP Central Committee, which was held online on Dec. 15, JCP leader Kazuo Shii told party members that the party would aim for 8.5 million votes and a vote share of more than 15% by “concentrating efforts to succeed in the proportional representation race, without losing sight of the goal.”

The JCP has called for a “coalition government of opposition parties” as a condition for election cooperation. “If an agreement on the formation of a coalition government can be reached, the election cooperation would be strengthened,” he said, pressing the CDPJ to make a decision on a partnership.

CDPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, who has maintained personal relations with Shii, is mediating between the two parties, out of a sense of urgency that unless opposition parties’ efforts to unify their candidates go forward smoothly, they would not be able to compete with ruling parties, and effectively negate the impact of the relaunched CDPJ.

Ozawa urged CDPJ leader Yukio Edano to make a decision on the election cooperation in a meeting in Tokyo on Nov. 16, saying that the two parties should confirm that they would take the reins of government in cooperation with the JCP, and reach a consensus within this year.

“I understand that the next lower house election will be tough for our party if we are fighting against the JCP,” Edano reportedly said, without mentioning an agreement to cooperate in the formation of a government.

It would be difficult to form a coalition government with the JCP, whose basic policies differ from the CDPJ. Edano is probably intending to promote election cooperation without the proposition of forming a coalition government.

The JCP’s party platform includes unrealistic policies, including the abolition of the Imperial institution and the scrapping of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

Although Shii has said emphatically that the JCP would not bring its unique policies into a coalition government if a transfer of power is realized, the essence of the party has not changed.

On Nov. 29, a ceremony was held at the Diet to mark the 130th anniversary of the launch of the parliamentary system with the invitation of the Emperor and Empress. The JCP was absent, claiming that the Diet was becoming like the prewar Imperial parliament, which had the Emperor at its center. Some CDPJ members have said that it would be impossible to cooperate with a party that denies the Imperial institution.

During an online meeting with a U.S. representative of the Democratic Party on Dec. 16, Edano also said that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was the foundation of Japan’s foreign policies.

Edano belonged to the then Democratic Party of Japan, when the party strayed off course in its dealing with the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture. Based on this bitter experience, he understands that if a government mishandles foreign policy, the ability to hold the reins of administration would be denied immediately.

The CDPJ and the JCP, united in their commitment to realizing a transfer of power, are grappling for ways to fight together on the same stage with no realistic policy agreements in sight.

■ Unified opposition a threat to ruling party candidates

The JCP cooperated with the CDPJ in the 2017 lower house election and the 2019 upper house election. In the next lower house election, the key will be to what extent the JCP will be able to promote election cooperation with the revamped CDPJ, which was launched in September 2020.

In the 2017 lower house election, opposition parties could not form a unified front because the then Democratic Party split into the CDPJ and Kibo no To, helping the ruling parties to win in the election.

Of the 227 constituencies in which multiple opposition party candidates had been fielded, ruling party candidates won in 184, or more than 80%.

Combined, the votes of opposition parties excluding Nippon Ishin no Kai would have exceeded the votes of ruling party candidates in 64 out of the 184 constituencies, reducing the ratio of the ruling party’s seats in the 227 constituencies to a little more than 50%.