Former PM: Two-party system the goal of my political life

This is the second installment of a series reflecting on the 25 years since the single-seat constituency system was introduced. The following are excerpts of an interview with former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: A change of government has occurred only twice since the adoption of the electoral system that combines single-seat constituencies with proportional representation.

Noda: That change aimed at setting the stage for a two-party system. Regrettably, that result has not been realized under the current situation. Although I am involved in this matter, I have yet to help build a political party that could rival the Liberal Democratic Party.

Q: Why hasn’t a political party able to compete with the LDP been created yet?

A: One reason why the Democratic Party of Japan failed was a sense of disorganization. Diversity among members should be a strength of a party representing ordinary people, but we failed when it came to party management. Decision-making led by the party leadership is needed, as is the followership to accompany it. In the LDP, too, there are people of diverse opinions. But the LDP has the wisdom not to let the party become disoriented despite some discontent among its members.

It is also necessary for us to consider better ways to nurture our human resources. The role of opposition parties is to place a check on the government, but an image has formed of our party being one that only criticizes the government. It is important to develop the power to envision what government should be, while keeping the governing party in check in a well-balanced manner. We have to achieve a structure under which we can win seats even in fiercely contested single-seat constituencies.

The DPJ has let people hold an impression that the party failed to carry out the manifesto it advocated in the 2009 House of Representatives election. But the party failed to carry out its manifesto primarily because national tax revenues fell sharply at that time, in the wake of the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers. That is to say, the manifesto-driven election clashed with the time when the administration was constrained the most. There are lots of constraints, even now, amid the coronavirus pandemic. But still, we have to work out our vision for an administration. We may as well present basic policies, rather than detailed ones.

Q: How do you see the likelihood of a change of government occurring in the next lower house election?

A: Of course, there may possibly be some likelihood of such a development. It would be absurd for us to look only on the gloomy side.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, founded [in its current form] last year, made a favorable start as a party that can take up the reins of government. Though the party is not in complete accord with the Democratic Party for the People, we were able to form a pivot from the standpoint of rallying the “centrist” forces together. Our party has also become more proficient as an organization than the DPJ was in its day.

I don’t think the LDP is so powerful at present. Among LDP legislators who have been elected to the Diet three times or less, I don’t think many are engaging in substantial political activities.

The point is how well we can win in closely contested single-seat constituencies. There are various ways of achieving that end. For instance, if a survey of voting trends showed that our candidate was falling behind his or her rival by only a small margin, we could all go together to support them, or send Diet members who are good at winning organized votes. If we win in these closely contested electoral districts, we could also expect an increase in the number of votes won under proportional representation, leading to an increase in the number of successful candidates. Toward the upcoming lower house election, we will be making thorough preparations.

Q: What do you think of the opposition parties presenting a united front?

A: Although there is also a question of whether it is appropriate to call it a “united front,” taking the reins of government together with the Japanese Communist Party is not a possibility. But we can make a deal with the JCP as they want to increase their seats in the race under a proportional representation system. It is reasonable for us to exchange opinions to advance each other and maximize the number of seats in the Diet.

Q: We would like to hear your thoughts about realizing a two-party system.

A: Since the days when I was still a member of the Chiba prefectural assembly, I have had a belief that a two-party system would be desirable for advancing the nation’s politics, which had become stagnant under the so-called “1955 system” [in which the LDP was formed and maintained a standoff against the then largest opposition Japan Socialist Party]. I joined the Japan New Party, founded in 1992, as I was spurred to do so by discussions on election reform with Morihiro Hosokawa, then the leader of the party. When Hosokawa held talks with then LDP President Yohei Kono in 1994 and they reached an accord on political reforms, including the introduction of an electoral system combining the single-seat constituency system with proportional representation, it gave me goosebumps.

It is the plethora of weak opposition parties that allows the LDP to enjoy its one-party dominance now. Overcoming this is a basic premise for us to move toward a two-party system. Unless we realize a two-party system, I won’t be able to die in peace. I do understand how hard it would be, but it is my political life to pursue this.

I will do anything the party leadership asks of me. I would also like to organize a political school, together with Katsuya Okada and Kishiro Nakamura, to teach others how to compete well in elections based on what we have experienced.

— The interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Naohiro Tamura.

Yoshihiko Noda

Former prime minister,Noda, 64, graduated from the Faculty of Political Science and Economics of Waseda University. After serving as a member of the Chiba prefectural assembly, he was elected to the House of Representatives from the former Chiba Constituency No. 1 for the first time in 1993. Having served as chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee of the Democratic Party of Japan, and as finance minister, he served as the prime minister from September 2011 to December 2012. Presently, he is a chief executive advisor of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ). He has been elected to the lower house eight times.