Japan's largest opposition party has seen a stream of lawmakers defecting from the party. This month, an extraordinary session of the Diet is expected to be convened, but the Democratic Party's new leader Seiji Maehara and other members of the party leadership have been caught up persuading legislators who look like they could depart to remain within the party. Can the party head into Diet debate in such a state?
Including legislators who have already declared they will leave, a total of five lawmakers are said to be prepared to depart from the party. Three of them are close to Goshi Hosono, who left the party ahead of the recent election of the party leader. It is believed they will join a new party that Hosono plans to form.
Hosono and the other legislators close to him also appear to have their eyes on a new force in national politics that could cooperate with "Tomin First no Kai" (Tokyoites First), a political party effectively led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike.
As has been the case this time, it is questionable for legislators to change parties after being elected through proportional representation. But the view among Diet members that their chance of winning the next election would be slim if they ran on a Democratic Party ticket probably takes priority. As many members are aligned with Maehara in terms of his conservative views, the issue is a serious one for the party leadership.
Maehara has stumbled since the launch of his party lineup. Seeking to renew the Democratic Party's image, he initially planned to name Shiori Yamao secretary-general, but he hastily retracted the plan after it came to light that a weekly magazine would report on a scandal involving her. Yamao then left the party. It is probably only natural that the support rate for Maehara's party isn't improving.
In October, there will be three by-elections to fill vacant seats in the House of Representatives. The Democratic Party has still not reached a conclusion on whether it will cooperate with the Japanese Communist Party in the elections -- a key point of contention during the leadership race -- and remains plagued with uneasiness as it approaches the dissolution of the lower house and the general election that will eventually take place.
However, the most important issue at hand for the Democratic Party is its response in the Diet as the No. 1 opposition party in Japan. It should swiftly equip itself for Diet debate.
Questions hanging over scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, which caused the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to suffer a major decline in support, have yet to be answered. After the last regular Diet session ended, special out-of-session proceedings were held, but new questions have surfaced since then.
Meanwhile, the government has yet to provide a sufficient explanation on the tense situation surrounding North Korea. It is the Diet's mission to fix this. We can probably safely say this is of more interest to the public than problems within the party such as legislators leaving one after another like falling dominoes.
Tough and constructive questioning in the Diet will be the first step toward reviving the Democratic Party.