LITTLE PUBLIC SUPPORT EXPECTED FOR JAPAN’S NEW OPPOSITION PARTY
The Democratic Party (DP) and the Party of Hope, two opposition parties headed respectively by Kohei Otsuka and Yuichiro Tamaki, will announce the formation of a middle-of-the-road reformist party named the Democratic Party for the People (DPP) on May 7. The DPP aims to become the leading opposition party by embracing “moderate conservative and liberal lawmakers in the Diet.”
Writing this column ahead of the party’s inaugural conference, in which Otsuka and Tamaki will speak as the DPP’s co-founders, I have yet to review their platform and policies. From what I have observed about them and their prior parties, however, I cannot help but view the new party as a lost cause even before its launch.
Upper house lawmaker Hirofumi Ryu, until recently a member of the Party of Hope, has become independent rather than joining the new party. He had this to say:
“Last October, I left the DP to join the Party of Hope on the occasion of the general election, because the latter took a position on Japan’s security policy and revision of the ‘pacifist’ constitution more in tune with our national interests.
“At the time, all of the 52 DP lawmakers who joined the Party of Hope, including Mr. Tamaki himself, agreed to sign a ‘policy agreement.’ As a condition for running for the lower house on the Party of Hope ticket, we pledged to honor the national security legislation in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. In other words, we vowed to recognize the peace legislation enacted in 2015, which we had previously bitterly opposed, as it enabled Japan to significantly expand the role played by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, including exercising its right to collective self-defense.
“We further swore that we would support the constitutional revision and that we would make efforts to promote a nationwide debate on the revision. Actually, this policy was diametrically opposite to the DP’s, but I thought this was the right thing to do at the time. I believe Tamaki signed it obviously because he thought like me then.
“Tamaki and his colleagues are now effectively reverting to the policies of their old party. The members of the Party of Hope collected nearly 10 million proportional votes. How can they look the voters in the face now? Public trust will certainly be lost.”
Akihisa Nagashima, who was a DP conservative heavyweight from electoral district no. 21 in Tokyo, joined the Party of Hope in 2017. Rather than joining the new party, he tendered his resignation last month to go independent. He observed:
“Three factors have significantly contributed to the birth of the new party—pressure from the powerful Rengo (the Japan Trade Union Confederation), whose backing the DP has badly wanted; a need to reach a basic agreement on the new party by May Day; and the next Upper House election slated for the summer of 2019. Rengo is attempting to remobilize former DP forces as the first step toward re-strengthening its influence within the Diet instead of promoting the ideas and policies of the DP and the Party of Hope. Rengo’s agenda was put forth most strongly.
“Furthermore, Rengo wanted the two parties to promise by May Day that they were definitely headed for a merger. On the one hand, Rengo badly wants to secure lawmakers who represent the interests of labor unions. On the other, many lawmakers desperately crave labor votes that Rengo controls. Politicians lacking well-organized support groups want to benefit from the Rengo votes, even though they may not be fully aware how reliable those votes really can be. These factors are clearly behind the formation of the new opposition party.”
Party Vision Not Rooted in Reality
Unquestionably, both Tamaki and Otsuka are brilliant. But I am puzzled by why they have failed to make the grade in politics. Tamaki, for one, is a 1993 graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University who later, as a Financial Ministry bureaucrat, studied at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Back in Japan in the early 2000s, he was on an elite career track in the ministry’s Budget Bureau. He went into politics in 2001.
Meanwhile, Otsuka joined the Bank of Japan in 1983, winning his PhD in macroeconomics at Tokyo’s Waseda University in 2000. He sought a political career in 2005. As a person, he is quite agreeable. Unlike Tamaki, his manner of talking is mild.
These two relatively young elite leaders have frequently stood together on the podium in recent days trying to explain their vision for their new party. But why is it that, despite their brilliance and their youth, they have failed to offer even a faint glimmer of hope for the future? Some critics comment disdainfully that the ability required to manage the maneuverings of the political world can hardly be expected to come from a combination of a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and a former Bank of Japan official.
Looking back over our postwar political history, however, one realizes that Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (1957-60) was succeeded by Hayato Ikeda (1960-64), who had served in the Finance Ministry as Administrative Vice Minister. I personally do not buy the leadership of prime ministers from Ikeda down who belonged to the Kochikai faction within the Liberal-Democratic Party. But this certainly doesn’t mean I don’t value politicians simply because they come from the Finance Ministry or the Bank of Japan.
I do not count on Tamaki and Otsuka because their positions on the critical issues facing Japan today—the proposed revision of the constitution, national security, and social benefits among others—are not at all rooted in reality.
Truly stunning remarks were made by Tamaki and Otsuka last January 17 as they discussed these issues on the “Prime News” show of the BS-Fuji network. The time they spent on these remarks was actually rather short, but as I listened to them I became genuinely convinced that I have had enough of lawmakers like them. Below are their remarks:
Otsuka: “There is something I’d like the ‘Prime News’ show to put before the public
Newscaster: “What would that be?”
Otsuka: “It has to do with the revision of the constitution, which as you are well aware is a matter to be ultimately determined by the people in a referendum…”
Otsuka was quite right about the decision ultimately resting with the people. He
“But what if the proposed revision were not to be voted on article by article in the referendum but handled en bloc instead as a total package that simply requires a “yes or no” response from the people. I am afraid this is something Prime Minister Shinzo may try to do. It could create a horrible situation and I believe we should rigidly…”
Newscaster: “Is that so? But aren’t the requirements for the referendum set by law?”
Tamaki: “No…well… fundamentally, in terms of the referendum law…”
Newscaster: “It is supposed to be voted on article by article, right?”
Tamaki: “Well, yes, I think it is basically…but I’m afraid I’m not quite sure, as I don’t recall the details now.”
Otsuka: “Well, I…I will make sure to check this point later, but at any rate if it’s done article by article…”
“Doomed to Be Like the Former Japan Socialist Party”
The talk then drifted to other topics, but I ask the reader to note the underlined parts of the discussion. I find it difficult to believe that both Otsuka and Tamaki, among the brightest younger politicians today, obviously did not know that a constitutional revision can only be voted on article by article. If anything, I can only surmise that they have an amazingly vague understanding of how to go about revising the constitution.
As regards constitutional revision, the National Referendum Law was enacted under the first Abe administration (2006-2007), revising the relevant Diet laws that were in place at the time. Chapter VI-II of the revised law referring to the “Initiation of Amendments to the Constitution of Japan” stipulates: “Preliminary draft amendments, as provided for in the preceding article, shall be proposed separately for each relevant matter.”
In other words, the constitution can only be revised article by article. That is precisely the reason why the ruling party’s revision draft is broken into four clauses. As the biggest opposition force, the DP has failed to even come up with its own revision proposal. I attribute this failure to the party’s inability to function as a closely-knit entity, as its members range from too far right to too far left. On top of that, the members have obviously failed to grapple squarely with the critical issues facing Japan, as reflected in the failure by Tamaki and Otsuka to come to grips with the lawful process of constitutional revision.
Nearly a decade after the revision of the Diet Law, did they really think that the constitution could be revised en bloc? A constitutional revision has remained a crucial matter for Japan for the past several years. How can the assertions of a politician for or against an issue be credible when he doesn’t even understand the fundamental rules of the law being debated?
Independent lawmaker Nagashima issued a stern prediction for the future of a party comprised of such disgraceful members:
“I don’t think the DPP will succeed in adding to its strength. Soon, it will come to a dead end, with many of its members absorbed by Yukio Edano’s Constitutional Democratic Party, which currently is the leading opposition party. I suspect that DPP members will then feel like the former members of the now defunct Japan Socialist Party did when the party had to change its name to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1996.”
I couldn’t agree more.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 802 in the May 17, 2018 issue of The Weekly Shincho)