Izumi won CDPJ leadership on pledge to shift course from former chief Edano

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenta Izumi, second from left, raises his hands after being elected party leader on Tuesday afternoon in Tokyo. Former party leader Yukio Edano stands next to him at center.

Kenta Izumi, chairperson of the Policy Research Council for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, won a close fight in the party’s leadership election. With a House of Councillors election slated for next summer, Izumi managed to gather support across interparty groups, based on a policy to review the course pursued by former leader Yukio Edano.

Izumi will face some thorny problems along the way, such as mending fences within the party and rethinking the CDPJ’s election cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party.

Hit a bull’s-eye

“I believe restoring the CDPJ is the most urgent issue. I want to tackle that first,” Izumi said with a serious face at a press conference after he was elected party leader.

When it was announced that Izumi had garnered more votes in a runoff than Seiji Osaka, 62, a former parliamentary vice minister of internal affairs and communications, Izumi smiled and raised his fist in triumph. However, he swiftly returned to a solemn expression.

Izumi’s strategy in the leadership race was to first secure the support of members who joined from the Democratic Party for the People. He then compiled wide support from other interparty groups and the party’s local assembly members.

Izumi garnered the largest number of voters’ points in the first round of the election, including points from Diet members belonging to the CDPJ, and party members and supporters. In the runoff, he further widened his lead over Osaka.

“It was a thorough victory, just like we were aiming for,” a senior member of the Izumi camp said with satisfaction.

‘Not just critical’

At the press conference where Izumi declared his candidacy, he made clear his intention to review the practice of holding opposition party joint hearings at which members question bureaucrats on government-related scandals and the like. During the leadership race as well, he said, “We must change our party image of ‘only criticizing things,’” thereby touting his intention to abandon the course pursued by Edano.

Hopes are high with the CDPJ for Izumi, an eloquent speaker and still young at just 47, as the “face of the party’s campaign in the upper house election.” While it was difficult to differentiate between the assertions of the four candidates in the initial round, Izumi’s arguments were also praised by Diet members from outside his own group who feel it is important to revamp the party ahead of the upper house election.

Izumi spelled out a policy of appointing women to half of the party’s executive posts, which also seemed to have helped him win votes from the camp of Chinami Nishimura, a 54-year-old former state minister of health, labor and welfare who did not make it to the runoff.

Izumi said, “Although there are groups within the party, I believe that the barriers separating them are disappearing.”

The actual situation is not quite so simple. In the words of a mid-ranking CDPJ member, “If Izumi makes any moves in the future to reject Edano, the founder of the party, it would trigger a considerable backlash.”

Restoring the strength of the party, which remains in a slump, is also a challenge.

In the House of Representatives election in October, the CDPJ ended up securing only 96 seats, falling short of the 110 it had before the election. According to a nationwide public opinion poll taken by the Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 1 and 2, the party’s support rate stood at 11%, far behind the 39% of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

As Izumi advocates building an “opposition party that will actively propose policies,” he will be tested as to whether he can present specific policies during verbal debates at the extraordinary Diet session that starts next Monday.

With the upper house election slated for next summer, the most effort is likely to be spent on reviewing the cooperation with the JCP in elections. At the press conference, Izumi referred to “limited support for the government from outside the cabinet” in the event there is a change in government, something the CDPJ agreed on with the JCP before the lower house election.

“I see this as an agreement made for the lower house election, which does not mean something is already in place” for the upcoming election, Izumi said, expressing his intention to modify the party’s cooperation with the JCP.

Appointing rivals to key posts

Izumi announced Wednesday his intention to appoint Nishimura as secretary general of the party.

Izumi is to appoint Osaka as the CDPJ’s executive deputy leader, and Junya Ogawa as the Policy Research Council chairman. Both Osaka and Ogawa are former parliamentary vice ministers of internal affairs and communications.

Nishimura, Osaka and Ogawa all competed with Izumi in the leadership election on Tuesday. Izumi said at a press conference after the election that he would appoint them all to executive positions.

Former Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Sumio Mabuchi is expected to serve as the Diet Affairs Committee chairperson, and Kensuke Onishi, a member of the House of Representatives, as chairperson of the Election Strategy Committee.