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How far opposition realignment can go key in defying LDP dominance

The opposition parties' moves to realign themselves to topple the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s dominance in the Diet through this summer's House of Councillors election are still halfway through, despite the upcoming launch of a new party called the Democratic Party through the merger of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Japan Innovation Party (JIP) on March 27.

    On the evening of March 2, DPJ leader Katsuya Okada met with Ichiro Ozawa, co-leader of the People's Life Party (PLP), in Tokyo. During the talks, Ozawa told Okada, "The point is whether your party is seeking to return to power. First and foremost, it is necessary to be prepared," urging the DPJ to fully gear up to collaborate with the PLP and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Okada, however, stopped short of giving a clear answer.

    Ozawa is apparently frustrated by the feeling that the opposition camp's efforts toward realignment may die down once the Democratic Party is launched later this month. He also told Okada, "Opposition forces must call for not only repealing the security-related laws but also set out a countermeasure to the 'Abenomics' economic policy mix (promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government) and a breakaway from nuclear power" -- asking the DPJ leader to comply with setting out a common agenda as part of efforts toward cooperation among opposition parties.

    While the Democratic Party will be launched under a new logo and a new party color of blue -- a departure from the DPJ's trademark red color, voters' expectations for the new party apparently remain low. Okada himself shares the awareness that the fate of the new party hinges on whether it will be able to become the core of further collaboration among opposition forces.

    Last month, the DPJ and four other opposition parties agreed to cooperate with one another in the upper house race, and it is anticipated that the DPJ may align with the PLP and the SDP -- but not with the Japanese Communist Party. DPJ Secretary-General Yukio Edano and former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, however, are opposed to merging with the PLP because of Ozawa. There are also strong reservations among DPJ officials about the SDP joining the new party because the latter left the ruling coalition during the reign of the DPJ government led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. When Okada met SDP leader Tadatomo Yoshida in Tokyo earlier this month, they failed to work out concrete plans.

    While Okada is torn between conflicting opinions within his party, a plan to form a parliamentary group with the PLP in the upper house has emerged. Because the DPJ-JIP merger was preceded by their formation of a parliamentary group in the House of Representatives, the latest proposal envisages a similar development in the upper chamber.

    As upper house vice president Azuma Koshiishi and many other DPJ lawmakers in the chamber are close to Ozawa, there is apparently less opposition toward aligning with the PLP compared with the sentiment among DPJ lawmakers in the lower chamber. What's more, JIP leader Yorihisa Matsuno is also close to Ozawa.

    "We must create a major movement of opposition unity over the next month in order to block the ruling parties from winning a two-thirds majority (in the upper chamber)," Koshiishi told his aides. By advancing collaboration with the PLP and the SDP -- which share so many policy measures in common with the DPJ, the leftist faction within the DPJ also aims to keep the party's conservative wing in check as the latter is to grow in ratio through the merger with the JIP and the Kaikaku Kesshu no Kai (Vision of Reform).

    When the DPJ-JIP parliamentary group was launched in the lower chamber in December last year, the DPJ caucus in the upper chamber called for forming a parliamentary group with the PLP and SDP. However, Okada and other party officials ordered the move be suspended out of concern for a lack of consensus within the DPJ.

    Nonetheless, Okada apparently remains committed to pursuing further collaboration with the PLP and SDP. "By joining hands with the PLP and SDP, we will be able to create a broader framework of the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito versus the non-LDP-Komeito camp," said a mid-ranking legislator close to Okada. It is unclear, though, whether the opposition parties can overcome their deep-rooted conflict of opinions and differences in their policy measures.

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