Bumps ahead for Main Opposition CDPJ on Its Road to Seize Power in Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, makes an address during the opposition party’s online convention from a hotel in Tokyo on Jan. 31.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has held its first convention since the former party of the same name joined forces with some members of the former Democratic Party for the People and independent Diet members to form the new political party.

CDPJ leader Yukio Edano voiced his eagerness to bring about a change in government through the formation of a unified front with other opposition parties, as the approval ratings for the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have been sinking over the government’s inadequate handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We will become a viable option as an administration, beat the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, and form a new government centered around the CDPJ,” Edano said at the Jan. 31 convention held at a hotel in Tokyo.

Attending in person were 15 executive members of the party, while about 320 other participants, such as Diet members and heads of local chapters, took part online.

“The non-LDP forces who had changed parties over the past nearly eight years have united,” Edano said. “This is a huge asset.”

Through the joining of forces, the party’s strength in both houses of the Diet is a combined 153 members.

“We were able to amend the bill related to the new coronavirus because we have become a party with more than 150 Diet members,” a senior official of the CDPJ said.

During a representative interpellation in the lower house held on Jan. 20, Edano spent three-quarters of his allotted time on a proposal focused on the novel coronavirus. The move was to showcase the party’s ability to assume the reins of government and open the door to groups critical of the current government’s handling of the pandemic.

Edano criticized the government again during the convention, saying that the spread of novel coronavirus infections was a “human-made disaster caused by government blunders.” He added that his party would “create a government that protects people’s lives and livelihoods.”

■ Union troubles

A heap of challenges lies ahead for the recently formed party, however.

The party’s footing has yet to settle on solid ground. Within the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) — the CDPJ’s largest support organization — industrial unions affiliated with the private sector have become increasingly alienated by the party.

One of the leading industrial unions affiliated with the private sector, the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Union (JAW), decided in January to have one of its members in the upper house join the new Democratic Party for the People, as the DPFP’s principles are based on making policy proposals. The Federation of All Toyota Workers’ Unions, the largest force within the JAW, has also made a policy shift with the idea of boosting cooperation with the ruling parties.

Reasons behind the unions’ alienation have involved the CDPJ’s platform of eliminating nuclear power. At one point, Rengo had backed the joining of forces of opposition parties so it would be able to consolidate its support behind a single party. But for the next lower house election, Rengo has no choice but to allow support for both the CDPJ and the DPFP.

Furthermore, industrial unions have grown discontent with certain CDPJ attitudes that have shown an inclination toward scandal-focused questioning and criticism.

“The CDPJ’s policies and principles are not compatible with ours,” a union executive said.

Generational change is also another challenge for the party. Among the members listed on the party’s leadership ranks are senior members of the then Democratic Party of Japan — a onetime ruling party that was the predecessor of the CDPJ — such as Renho, a current acting leader of the party, and Tetsuro Fukuyama, the secretary general of the party.

“The list of the party leadership has not changed and lacks novelty,” said a middle-ranking official of the party.

According to nationwide surveys conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the CDPJ’s approval rating has hovered at around 5%, similar to pre-merger times, indicating no apparent buoyant effect from the joining of forces. In a January survey, the LDP’s approval rating was 37%. Before the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in September 2009, the opposition party had registered a 30% approval rating in July that year, which surpassed the ruling LDP’s 25%.

■ Communist cooperation

For its 2021 action plan approved at the convention, the CDPJ considers the following its biggest challenge: the fielding of a single candidate supported by the opposition parties in single-seat constituencies in the upcoming lower house election.

The CDPJ has made its intentions clear that the party “will devote its utmost efforts” toward these unified candidates. Key for such an endeavor is cooperation from the Japanese Communist Party, which enjoys a solid support base. As of Jan 31., CDPJ and JCP candidates are competing with each other in 67 single-seat constituencies.

“We estimate obtaining around 20,000 votes per single-seat constituency” if the JCP chooses to withdraw its candidates, said a senior official from the CDPJ, which would put candidates fielded by the CDPJ into more advantageous positions.

However, the JCP’s goal of “garnering 8½ million votes in the proportional representation system,” is directly tied to finding supporters in single-seat constituencies. The proposal that the JCP should start withdrawing its candidates to help bolster the CDPJ is thus at odds with the JCP’s own declared aims.

Amid such circumstances, a JCP condition for forming a united front is a “coalition government of opposition parties.”

At a press conference on Jan. 28, JCP Chair Kazuo Shii put pressure on Edano, saying: “We have reached a broad agreement on election cooperation with the CDPJ, but have not agreed so far as to cooperating in forming a government together. We need more discussions to advance that.”

Yet Edano’s posture remains indecisive.

Labor unions part of Rengo — not only those affiliated with private companies, but also those affiliated with the public sector that strongly support the CDPJ — also fiercely oppose the party cooperating with the JCP. The reason being is that Rengo, in connection with previous labor movements, has been at odds with the JCP.

“Supporting the JCP is impossible,” Rengo President Rikio Kozu said.

With regards to policy direction with the JCP, cracks within the CDPJ have also begun to show. Some senior members, including lower house member Ichiro Ozawa are pressing Edano to reach an accord in election cooperation with the JCP. Ozawa has expressed his sense of alarm, by telling those around him, “Unless we cooperate closely with the JCP, our party will be a wreck in the next lower house election.”

On the other hand, other senior members, including former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, and Katsuya Okada, a former foreign minister, have taken the position that while the party should cooperate with the JCP in unifying candidates in single-seat constituencies, it shouldn’t make wider moves and form a coalition government. Because the JCP advocates abolishing the Imperial system and scrapping the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Noda and Okada harbor reservations under the notion that voters would stop considering the CDPJ as an option for an administration,” if it moves too close to the JCP.

In reference to the cooperation among opposition parties, Edano only went so far as to say during a press conference after the convention: “I would like to present my vision of an administration at the appropriate time. I hope we will be able to engage with the maximum degree of cooperation with everyone who is in agreement.”