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Despite DPJ-JIP accord, prospects dim for opposition cooperation in upper house race

DPJ leader Katsuya Okada, right, and JIP head Yorihisa Matsuno shake hands in the Diet Building on Feb. 26, 2016, after agreeing to merge their parties. (Mainichi)

Although the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and Japan Innovation Party (JIP) agreed on Feb. 26 to merge, serious questions remain as to whether opposition parties can cooperate closely in the summer House of Councillors election.

    The DPJ and the JIP, the largest and second largest opposition parties, have proposed to join hands with not only the People's Life Party (PLP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), but also Vision of Reform -- a JIP splinter group -- and the Assembly to Energize Japan, as well as pro-opposition independents in forming a new party.

    At a news conference, DPJ leader Katsuya Okada emphasized that a new party to be formed by the DPJ and the JIP "will try to integrate opposition parties," while JIP leader Yorihisa Matsuno stated, "There's a possibility that we'll join hands with various people." The DPJ and the JIP regard their merger as the first step toward realignment of opposition parties.

    The ratio of former DPJ members among all JIP legislators increased after those loyal to former JIP co-leader Toru Hashimoto broke away to found the "Initiative from Osaka" party. As such, the JIP believes it necessary to pursue a broader integration of opposition parties that are critical of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). To that end, the DPJ and the JIP are seeking to promote election cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the PLP and the SDP.

    "We're determined to work hard toward political change with five-party cooperation and a new party as the two wheels of a cart," Okada said. The DPJ and the JIP place priority on joining hands with the PLP and the SDP over the JCP, with which there is a wide policy gap.

    There remains mistrust between some of these opposition parties, however. The PLP is poised to positively consider joining a new party. However, distrust persists within the DPJ toward PLP leader Ichiro Ozawa. Ozawa and other members of the PLP broke away from the DPJ in protest for the latter's plan to raise the consumption tax when the party was in government.

    "I'd resign unless Ozawa is barred from any new party," said a senior DPJ legislator.

    The SDP broke away from the tripartite coalition administration led by the DPJ over a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.

    "We can't join a new party before the upper chamber election because discussions on a new party platform alone would take several months," says SDP Secretary-General Seiji Mataichi.

    The Assembly to Energize Japan decided on Feb. 26 to dissolve its parliamentary alliance with the DPJ in the upper house. Its leader Kota Matsuda said, "We're unlikely to join a new party."

    Such being the case, only the DPJ, JIP and anti-LDP independent legislators will likely join the new party when it is founded in March.

    Conservatives within the DPJ are critical of the party leadership for strengthening its cooperation with the JCP in seeking to abolish the security-related legislation that is to open the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

    "The DPJ is tilting left. A key to realignment of opposition parties is strengthening cooperation with Initiative from Osaka, with which we share conservative policies," says one mid-ranking conservative legislator with the DPJ.

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