EDITORIAL At election time DPP should find its identity as an opposition party

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The Democratic Party for the People, the third largest opposition party with 21 seats in the Diet, is scheduled to hold its leadership election on Sept. 2.

This will be the party’s chance to take a good, hard look at its own identity and role as an opposition party.

It should decide whether to continue collaborating with the ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, as a means for implementing its policies, or to change course and confront the LDP to promote unity and cooperation within the opposition bloc.

The election will be a duel between Yuichiro Tamaki, the current leader whose term of office is expiring, and acting leader Seiji Maehara. The two differ greatly in their respective distances from the LDP.

The election campaign will kick off on Aug. 21, involving not only the party’s sitting lawmakers but also all potential party-endorsed candidates in national elections, as well as local assembly members and party members and supporters around the nation.

The present DPP was formed by members who refused to merge with the former Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in 2020 because of conflicting policies.

Tamaki, who has led the DPP since before 2020, advocated “solution over confrontation” in the 2021 Lower House election, enabling the party to increase its seats in the Diet by distancing itself from the unified opposition front that included the Japanese Communist Party.

The party’s “pro-LDP stance” became particularly conspicuous in 2022 when it supported the government’s initial budget bill. That was tantamount to giving the LDP-led administration a vote of confidence–an extremely unusual act by an opposition party.

Because of the uncertain prospects of the advancement of its policies that Tamaki cited as his reason for supporting the budget bill, The Asahi Shimbun criticized in an editorial the party for “abandoning its role as an opposition party.” 

The editorial also pointed out that Tamaki had played right into the hands of the ruling coalition that wanted the opposition bloc to split.

During this year’s ordinary Diet session, the party opposed the government’s budget bill, but joined forces with Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) in supporting many problematic bills, including a package of laws to promote green transformation and decarbonization in the electricity supply, the revised My Number law and the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.

With respect to the law to promote the public’s understanding of LGBT people, the party worked with Ishin to come up with a joint proposal and forced the ruling coalition to accept it in its entirety.

However, it was pointed out that this proposal represented a regress from the government version because too many considerations had been made for the law’s opponents and those calling for its cautious handling.

There is no need for an opposition party to oppose all bills proposed by the government and ruling parties. On the contrary, it is perfectly fine to follows its own agenda.

Still, in the case of the DPP, we can hardly say the party is living up to its role of keeping the ruling coalition in check. In fact, the party has only itself to blame for being seen as a “complementary force” of the administration.

In announcing his candidacy for the party’s leadership, Maehara severely criticized Tamaki’s style of party management, and went on to declare that he would prioritize the pursuit of party policy by advancing anti-LDP collaboration in the opposition bloc, excluding the JCP.

The collaboration he has in mind is mainly with the CDP and Ishin. But the single-seat constituency system of the Lower House demands the difficult task of deciding on just one shared candidate in each electorate.

And it also is not easy having to coordinate policies with the CDP, with which Tamaki had a falling out in 2020 over policy differences.

When Maehara was the leader of Minshinto (the Democratic Party) at the time of the 2017 Lower House election, he decided to merge with Kibo no To (Party of Hope), led by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, creating a major rift among opposition parties.

If Maehara wants to win the understanding of party members and expand his intraparty support base, he needs to face up to his past squarely and express appropriate remorse.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 9