IS PARTY OF HOPE QUALIFIED TO RUN JAPAN’S NEXT ADMINISTRATION?
Will Japanese voters support the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party-Komeito coalition headed by Prime Minister Shizo Abe—or the new Party of Hope, led by Tokyo Governor Ms. Yuriko Koike? The new party is in essence the top opposition Democratic Party (DPJ) simply going by a new name. The outcome of the lower house election slated for October 22 will profoundly affect the fate of the nation.
What did DPJ leader Seiji Maehara expect in offering Koike his party with its 87 lower house members, its \15 billion (US$146 million) in government subsidies, and its affiliation with the powerful Japan Trade Union Confederation, known as Rengo, with its estimated 6.8 million votes?
To Maehara’s request that all of his party’s lower house members be accepted, Koike responded that they would have to be screened on an individual basis after first agreeing to support the revision of the current constitution and the security-related legislation enacted in 2015.
It is hard to believe that Maehara intended to eliminate the liberal wing of his party by anticipating Koike’s decision to exclude them, but that task actually had in some ways been expected of the DPJ leader.
When vying for the DPJ presidency against his deputy Yukio Edano on September 1, Maehara stated that, if elected president, he would review his party’s relationship with the Japan Communist Party, especially cooperation on campaigns. Elected president, however, Maehara began wavering in his commitment. That prompted some conservative members to bolt the party, including Hirohumi Ryu. It is not clear how Koike and her party plan to forge ahead with the screening, but obviously not all of the DPJ members will be able to join the Party of Hope.
On October 1, Edano told reporters that he only accepted Maehara’s proposal that the DPJ would join the Party of Hope because Maehara “explained very emphatically” that all of the members would be able to regroup under the new framework of Koike’s party. His reproachful remarks will in no way be understood by the hardnosed Koike.
Asked about this matter, Koike pointed out that she had told Maehara she “would select only those DPJ members whose ideas and visions correspond to ours.” She blamed a “communications problem” with the DPJ for its failure to come to understand her insistence on excluding the more liberal elements of the party.
It all boils down to an utter failure on the part of Maehara to correctly come to grips with what Koike was driving at. Because of this failure, however, certain things about the party came to light, which I believe will be an important lesson in making sense of the DPJ going forward.
A Pathetic Sight
When Maehara explained his plans before all the members of the DPJ in both chambers of parliament on September 29, the agreement was unanimous, as Edano stated. At least nobody was opposed to rallying around Koike at the time.
I have not been a supporter of the DPJ, but I have expected much from some of its members. I have paid tribute to these lawmakers who, while differing significantly from Edano and his leftwing colleagues in political philosophy, nevertheless have had the passion to expound their beliefs sincerely and remain true to their words.
Whatever has happened to the party? Every member attempted to bolt, as if deserting a sinking ship. Worse, they sought to live under Koike’s roof in unison, so to speak. One ceases to be a lawmaker when his parliamentary seat is lost. I can understand how tough losing it is. However, it is difficult indeed to witness the pathetic sight of these DPJ lawmakers acting without regard for any principles in these weeks since the prime minister called a snap election.
What justifies their running for Koike’s shelter? Are they spurred by a zeal to topple the Abe administration? If so, which of Abe’s specific policies do they find unacceptable?
Koike’s policies are fundamentally similar to Abe’s, such as support of the security-related bills and a constitutional revision. All the DPJ members opposed them. Until fairly recently, well after the legislation was enacted, they chanted slogans opposing it. Are these lawmakers now seriously banding together to rally around a former defense minister who has recently raised the possibility of Japan going nuclear?
Are they expecting a second coming of the populist wave that in July 2016 led Koike’s Tokyoites First Party to a resounding victory over Abe’s LDP in the Tokyo gubernatorial election? Do they think that, by simply joining Koike’s party, they will be guaranteed legislative seats? One clearly comes to understand what a political alliance of convenience is like after seeing these DPJ members tuning to a new party led by a popular figure in a desperate effort to hold their seats—regardless of policy differences.
Representing the Party of Hope, Masaru Wakasa has made frequent appearances on news shows. Wakasa, who left the LDP last May to back governor Koike, himself opposed the security legislation by abstaining from voting two years ago. Strange things happen in politics, as Wakasa is now serving Koike as her right-hand man in her party and rejecting DPJ members who continue to oppose the legislation.
Wakasa, a former public prosecutor, cited certain details of the law to justify his opposition to the legislation. Is he of the opinion that, at that juncture two years ago, Japan should have chosen a path completely denying it the right to collective self-defense? If so, then his position is completely out of sync with that of the Party of Hope.
Because Koike’s movements change rapidly on a daily basis, it is hard to expect what tomorrow may bring. As of this writing (October 1), it does appear that the liberal wing of the DPJ is endeavoring to form a new political party, with the JCP waiting with open arms to collaborate with them. (Editor’s note: The DPJ has since split, with its liberal forces forming the Japan Constitutional Democratic Party on October 2 with Edano as its president.)
How Will “Rengo” React?
Loosely speaking, the DPJ is bound to be split in two—left and right. The next question is how the labor confederation Rengo, which has supported the DPJ, will react. If this powerful labor body with 6.8 million voters also split, it will truly be an unexpected surprise.
Within Rengo, minority labor unions—such as prefectural and municipal workers’ unions and the Japan Teachers’ Union—have over the years gained control over numerous private-sector unions, such as the Japan Electric, Electronic and Information Union. Various government workers’ unions and private-sector labor unions with completely different constitutions have overcome their differences in order to maintain some degree of cohesiveness.
It is extremely difficult for two labor union groups that are fundamentally different philosophically to try and fall in line with each other. Once coordination is accomplished, it then becomes extremely difficult to undo. However, if the DPJ proper is to be divided between those knocking on the Hope Party’s doors and those going separate ways, Rengo may possibly be compelled to split in half likewise. If that happens, one may be able to attach some historic meaning to this noisy farce.
We are faced with onging tensions with North Korea. As matters stand now, however, Japan would be unable to cope effectively should the situation develop into a full-blown crisis. It is quite possible, for instance, that between 100,000 and 300,000 refugees could pour into Japan from both Koreas. North Korean refugees coming into the South could include operatives on a clandestine mission to topple the South Korean government. Likewise, armed refugees could very well slip into Japan.
Our police would not be able to sufficiently cope with tens of thousands of refugees flooding into the prefectures on the Japan Sea coast, such as Tottori, Shimane, Niigata, and Akita. Our Ground Self-Defense Forces would have to play a key role in granting the refugees temporary landing permits, providing food, clothing, and shelter, conducting security checks, and taking infection control measures as they endeavor to maintain social order across Japan.
But the GSDF is only less than 140,000 strong, and would have to perform military duties if a conflict were underway on the Korean Peninsula. How could they cope with refugees as well?
Japan must expeditiously proceed with all necessary legal and logistical preparations. Simultaneously, it must ready itself for a military role in connection with a possible military clash between the US and North Korea. We must stand ready for any emergency by being prepared to implement our security-related laws, taking extra measures to reinforce them if necessary.
Amid the growing possibility of these dark scenarios becoming reality sometime between the year-end and the first few months of next year, the real worth of the Party of Hope will be severely tested.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 773 in the October 12, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)