Charting a Course / CDPJ’s ‘cooperation’ strategy at a crossroads

This is the third and final installment of a series that explores where the country’s politics go after the recent House of Representatives election.

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano wore a steely expression as he announced his intention to step down to take responsibility for the party’s defeat in the House of Representatives election.

“I didn’t discuss this with anyone. In the end, I made this decision by myself,” Edano said at a meeting of the party’s executive members Tuesday. “Please forgive me for this.”

The attendees listened in stony silence. No one raised any objections to Edano’s decision to fall on his sword. Edano had founded the party, but the end came swiftly for the structure that placed him front and center with Edano running the CDPJ in a top-down style.

Ahead of the lower house election, the CDPJ had touted itself as “an option to lead the government.” However, the party won only 96 seats — 14 fewer than it held before the election. Some pundits have suggested that rather than the ruling Liberal Democratic Party winning the election, the CDPJ was responsible for its own defeat.

Edano and other CDPJ executives devised and implemented a strategy in which the party teamed up with four other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, and fielded a single candidate in some constituencies, to avoid splitting the votes of people dissatisfied with the ruling administration. This united approach ended in failure: Candidates put forward by these parties won only 59 of the 213 single-seat constituencies — less than 30%. This result indicated that voters saw through this coalition of convenience that glossed over significant differences in the parties’ basic policies.

“I never dreamed we’d end up with fewer seats after the election,” said CDPJ Secretary General Tetsuro Fukuyama, bewildered by the setback. Yet, it seems many voters were not convinced by the agreement to cooperate — albeit in a limited way — between the CDPJ, which considers the Japan-U.S. alliance to be the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy, and the JCP, which wants to abolish the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

CDPJ supporters became disillusioned as the party gradually cozied up to the JCP and increasingly drifted to the left. The CDPJ and JCP were generally in tune on some policy issues, such as exempting people who earn about ¥10 million or less annually from paying income tax and temporarily lowering the consumption tax rate. This situation had shades of the so-called 1955 system that was marked by division between conservative and leftist political forces.

The latest election results have prompted some soul-searching within the CDPJ. “We should rethink our tilt to the left, and try to regain the trust of moderate conservatives,” a veteran CDPJ member told The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Even so, CDPJ candidates triumphed in some closely fought races thanks to the additional votes pulled in from JCP supporters. “Our election strategy wasn’t completely flawed,” said CDPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairperson Jun Azumi, expressing a view still widely felt within the party.

Whether and how to cooperate with other opposition parties is shaping up to be the biggest issue in the CDPJ leadership election, which will be held before the end of the year.

If the CDPJ genuinely aspires to take over the reins of government, simply proposing policies that sound nice will not be enough. The party must compile realistic policies — including some that might be painful for some voters — and show it can go toe to toe with the ruling parties. The CDPJ should keep in mind the fact that forming a united front with other parties while ignoring policies will not broaden its support base.

The CDPJ campaigned for this election under a slogan of “let’s change it,” as the party pledged to transform the LDP-led government. But now, those words should apply even more so to the CDPJ itself.