Japan’s Ruling LDP Eyes Coalition with Opposition DPFP; Faces Challenge of Coordinating Policy, Constituencies

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuichiro Tamaki, incumbent leader of the Democratic Party for the People, left, and Seiji Maehara, Tamaki’s only rival in the party leadership election on Saturday, shake hands after the election in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Yuichiro Tamaki, the incumbent leader of the Democratic Party for the People, or DPFP, has been reelected.

Tamaki prioritizes cooperating with the ruling bloc, so the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is ready to heighten its efforts to join forces with the opposition party.

But although some LDP members are considering adding the DPFP to the current coalition framework with Komeito, there are apparently many obstacles to forming a three-party coalition.

Personnel changes

“The Cabinet’s approval rating is dropping. I’d like to consider personnel reshuffles,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who also is the LDP president, reportedly said during a meeting with Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s former secretary general, on Wednesday. Kishida is eyeing a cabinet reshuffle in September.

Nikai reportedly encouraged him, saying, “You should boldly do what you want to.”

Kishida is aiming to convey an image of freshness through the reshuffle. He is apparently hoping to turn things around with the establishment of a new coalition government and the appointment of a DPFP executive as a cabinet member.

Therefore, the prime minister and other LDP executives closely observed the DPFP leadership election, believing that if Tamaki won, it would be a strong tailwind for starting talks about forming a coalition with the party.

LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi and Vice President Taro Aso have been in negotiations with Tamaki and others behind the scenes since late last year, trying to sound out the DPFP’s stance.

Following Tamaki’s reelection, the two parties are expected to resume negotiations soon.

Hiroshi Moriyama, chairperson of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee, and Nikai, who have been cautious about the move, have begun showing understanding about forming a coalition with the opposition party. In mid-August, Nikai and other LDP heavyweights and a former Democratic Party of Japan executive who hailed from a labor union dined together and exchanged opinions.

But some LDP executives believe it will be difficult for the two parties to agree on policy and coordinate their constituencies.

A senior member of Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition party, was skeptical about the idea, saying: “We don’t think negotiations will proceed very smoothly.”

Wrapped up in suspicion

It is also unknown whether internal coordination within the DPFP will proceed smoothly toward forming a coalition with the LDP.

At a news conference after his re-election on Saturday, Tamaki referred to the coordination of policies and constituencies as conditions for forming a coalition.

“At least these two conditions must be met,” Tamaki said.

He also expressed concern, saying: “Unless we build up our strength first, we’ll be swallowed by other opposition parties before being engulfed by the ruling parties. Then we’ll no longer exist.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

For the DPFP to join the coalition, it will be necessary to win understanding from four private-sector industrial federations under the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, or Rengo, including the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions. The DPFP has lawmakers backed by these four federations.

Some LDP members believe the DPFP could join the coalition, depending on the judgement of individual lawmakers. However, a labor union executive rejected such optimism.

“Labor unions’ positions come first, and lawmakers supported by them follow these decisions,” the executive said.

The heads of the four federations met with DPFP lawmakers they support in a Tokyo hotel in late July to discuss the party’s future. The meeting was dominated by negative opinions about the party’s participation in the coalition.

“Party members are increasingly wrapping themselves up in suspicion,” said a lawmaker who attended the meeting.

A few days later, the head of one industrial federation asked Tamaki about his true intentions.

Tamaki reportedly said he was not considering forming a coalition with the LDP and Komeito for now, and that it was only a negotiating tactic. He added, however: “It’s uncertain how things will unfold depending on the political situation. So, I’d like to seek your understanding.”

Level of commitment

Even among LDP and DPFP members who want the two parties to join forces, opinions are divided over when to do so.

While many in the LDP hope that the coalition will be formed soon, the DPFP side seems to be more pragmatic.

Many apparently think that it would be beneficial for them to join the coalition after the number of LDP seats has dropped in the House of Representatives election and the number of DPFP members has increased to about 30, to “sell the party at a higher price.”

In an attempt to dispel such speculation, Tamaki said at the news conference that the DPFP had not been approached about possibly joining the coalition or the cabinet.

“The reality is that both the prime minister and Mr. Tamaki are at a loss, as both of them are uncertain how serious the other side is,” said a senior LDP member.

The two parties may eventually choose to take a pragmatic approach, such as joining forces for passing a supplementary budget at the extraordinary Diet session planned for October and gradually moving closer to each other.