Yoshihiko Noda, secretary-general of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), has announced he will step down to take responsibility for the party's dismal performance in the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
Noda made the announcement in a recent party meeting to review the outcome of the election. High-ranking officials of political parties must assume responsibility for setbacks in important elections. But Noda has failed to convey to the public what the party seeks through his resignation.
By announcing he will step down, Noda seemingly poured cold water on the DP as it grilled Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet during out-of-session Diet meetings on favoritism allegations. The allegations relate to a plan by a school corporation run by a friend of Abe's to establish a veterinary school.
The way the DP reviewed the election defeat has raised questions as to how deep the sense of crisis was for leader Renho and other top officials of her party.
Even though the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) suffered a historical defeat in the metropolitan assembly race, the DP's strength also fell to just five seats. Nevertheless, Renho and Noda announced shortly after the election that they would stay on.
Their decisions were called into question, but the DP continued to meander over the process of reviewing the election outcome. Some DP members critical of the party leadership zoomed in on the fact that Renho at one point had both Japanese and Taiwanese nationality. Renho's release of information on her family registry contributed to the confusion over the matter.
Noda's announcement of his intention to step down came more than three weeks after the election. It could give the public the impression that he sacrificed himself to allow Renho to stay in her position. The biggest problem involving the DP is that it has failed to present prospects for rehabilitating the party.
The biggest factor behind the DP's setback in the metropolitan assembly race is that the party has failed to restore the public's confidence under the leadership of Renho.
True, the DP has fulfilled a role of criticizing the government over Abe's alleged favoritism over the vet school plan and other matters. However, the main opposition party has failed to present policies that could attract middle-of-the-road and liberal voters on top of the moderate conservatives it seeks to attract. Moreover, the DP has failed to clarify its position on election cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party.
The latest Mainichi Shimbun opinion poll shows that the approval rating for the Abe Cabinet has plummeted to 26 percent while that of the DP also fell 3 points from the previous survey to a mere 5 percent. The DP's failure to attract voters who are critical of the government even after the metropolitan assembly race is serious.
Noda was prime minister when the DP's predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan, was swept out of power in 2012. Since he was viewed by critics within the party as being responsible for the party's loss in the 2012 general election, Renho's appointment of him as secretary-general stirred protests from within the party.
However, after Noda steps down, Renho will certainly come under more intense attacks from within the party and the general public.
Some have pointed out that DP could be forced to disband itself as the next House of Representatives election is to be called by December 2018. Renho should clarify the party's basic policy line while appointing a new secretary-general.