2015.10.31 Saturday 17:34

Possibility of opposition realignment

Having witnessed the enactment of the government’s security legislation despite the surge in popular movement opposing the bills, citizens who took part in the movement acutely feel the need to change the composition of the Diet. In response to such popular will, the Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii took the lead to advocate uniting opposition parties to create what he called a people’s coalition government. Talks are now under way among opposition parties for cooperation.

Among industrialized democracies, Japan has a relatively large number of political parties that have seats in the national legislature. Currently, the Liberal Democratic Party dwarfs all other parties like a Gulliver. In some European countries, with Switzerland as the typical example, small parties coexist, each representing a group having a specific ethnic, linguistic or religious identity. In Japan, however, no such social division exists, except in the case of Okinawa. In this respect, the existence of so many parties in Japan cannot be explained under the theory of political science.

Since the years around 1990 when the old LDP was mired in what appeared to be a bottomless chain of corruption, similar to what plagued Italy’s Christian Democratic Party, a sentiment critical of established political parties have permeated Japanese politics. Unlike Italy, however, Japan did not experience a political realignment that involved a dominant party. One political party after another that claimed to challenge the LDP emerged but quickly became obsolete. Then came the new parties on the “third pole” agenda of criticizing the established parties, many of which collapsed due to internal strife or money scandals. One reason that Japan has so many political parties is that most of the breakups and mergers of parties have taken place only in the opposition camp.

The Democratic Party of Japan once succeeded in taking power but has not been able to sustain a force that enables it to play a significant part in a system in which two major parties compete for power. If the DPJ’s performance in the Upper House election next year ends in a result similar to its performance in the 2013 race, the party will be reduced to a force with less than 20 percent of Diet seats, disqualifying itself from staying as a party capable of aiming for power again in the future. That would be a heavy blow not just for the DPJ but also for Japan’s democracy.

In its disregard of constitutionalism, the Abe administration seems to be on the brink of becoming a supra-constitutional force. It rejects the joint call by five opposition parties to hold an extraordinary Diet session, despite the provision in Article 53 of the Constitution that the Cabinet must convene such an Diet session when demanded by a quarter or more of the members of either chamber. Not just in order to keep in check an unconstitutional management of government like the above but aslo to maintain the competitive nature of party politics, it is imperative that the opposition parties unite their forces in preparation for the coming Upper House election.

The JCP has proposed establishment of a people's coalition government for the sake of abolishing the security legislation. However, it would be difficult under current circumstances for the opposition parties to agree on a roadmap beyond cooperation in the Upper House election campaign toward a change of government. This is because while they may be united in their opposition to the Abe administration and the security laws, they would need to do more, that is, to reach an agreement on various policy matters if they are going to take power.

Since Komeito, the LDP’s ruling coalition partner, strongly opposes simultaneous elections of the Diet’s two chambers, the election next summer will likely be an Upper House election alone. The triennial Upper House election, like the midterm elections in the United States, tends to be a venue for venting voters’ frustration with the incumbent administration. The opposition parties should first give priority to reducing the seats of the ruling alliance. To achieve this goal, they should quickly agree on fielding their candidates in a unified manner in those Upper House constituencies in which only one seat is up for grabs. Their common agenda can focus solely on punishing the Abe administration.


The other day I had a chance to talk with DPJ Upper House member Teruhiko Mashiko, who is seeking reelection next year from Fukushima Prefecture, where only one seat is up for grabs in the triennial race. He said the opposition camp can unite on the sole agenda of pacifism and phaseout of nuclear energy and that he sees a chance of winning as long as the JCP refrains from fielding its candidate in his constituency.  If the opposition parties agree on the model of a joint campaign to take on the LDP in Fukushima Prefecture, it will certainly have a nationwide impact.

True, reservations toward and distrust of the JCP exist among DPJ law makers. But can they now afford the luxury of rejecting such a joint campaign? The biggest task now for the opposition camp is to end the LDP’s domination of the political landscape and DPJ lawmakers should realize that it is their priority mission.

If the LDP loses in the next Upper House election, the Abe administration would face more difficulties in running the government. That can be a start for changing the political atmosphere and it would become realistically possible for the opposition forces to draw a vision for a change of government on the two principles of international harmony and social justice. Australia saw the creation of a new administration headed by a moderate conservative prime minister and the elections in Canada brought a change of government with the creation of a left-of-center administration. I would like to see Japan follow suit.


Japan Times October 29

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