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Renho forced to resign as DP lawmakers turned their backs against her

Following her victory in the Democratic Party (DP) presidential election, Renho (center) shakes hands with DP member and former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Sept. 15, 2016. (Mainichi)
Yukio Edano, a House of Representatives lawmaker of the Democratic Party (DP), speaks at the first meeting of the lower house Commission on the Constitution during this year's ordinary session of the Diet, on March 16, 2017. (Mainichi)

Largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) chief Renho on July 27 announced her decision to step down from her post, effectively taking responsibility for the party's devastating loss in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. With her trusted colleague, DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda, having revealed in the wake of the election that he would be leaving his post, Renho became increasingly isolated within the party, leading to her decision to give up the party presidency less than a year after she won it.

In explaining her change of heart in the two days since July 25, when she'd announced her intention to remain party leader, Renho told a July 27 press conference, "I allowed a centrifugal force to exert itself. When I mulled over how I could change that into a centripetal force, I arrived at the decision to step down."

The centripetal -- or unifying -- force that Renho possessed when she won against former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and others who also put in a bid for the DP presidency in September 2016, shifted into a force that pushed people away when one of the first steps she took as party leader was to appoint Noda as secretary-general.

Renho is a member of the DP's Noda faction, and Noda was seen as a powerful Renho backer. At the same time, however, there has been deep-rooted anti-Noda sentiment within the party since the DP's predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), lost in the 2012 general election under Noda's leadership, forcing the DPJ to surrender the reins of government to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Even those who had supported Renho in the DP presidential election began to keep their distance from her after she appointed Noda as secretary-general.

In the July 2 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election, the DP was only able to secure five seats -- the fewest in the DPJ's and DP's history. Noda announced his intention to resign in a bid to protect Renho from backlash, but the situation ended up further isolating Renho within the party instead.

Although Renho said in her July 27 press conference that she had not begun considering candidates for the next secretary-general and other top party posts, many of those whose names had come up as possible candidates had said they would decline, even if they were offered senior party appointments. To add insult to injury, a senior party official pressed some DP lawmakers whose names were up for consideration to decline, even if Renho were to request that they take a senior party post -- putting Renho between a rock and a hard place.

According to a source involved with the DP, those close to Renho were feeling out multiple lawmakers for their willingness to take senior party positions, but all unequivocally refused. And since Renho had aimed to continue as party president with a new roster of names in other senior party positions, all of her options were closed off.

Meanwhile, there are those within the DP who take Renho's resignation as a positive step for the party. "I think the result was a good one," one former Cabinet member said.

The DP's Maehara faction held a meeting on the night of July 27. Other factions also met on July 28, in preparation for a party presidential race that will inevitably take place. The main issues that are expected to be in dispute in the election are matters that party members are already split on, and could possibly make them more divided on: constitutional amendment, and the possibility of cooperating in elections with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

Maehara told reporters in the Diet on July 27, "I am not completely against opposition parties putting up a united front, but what's most important is a vision for the kind of society we aspire to have." In a past interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Maehara has said that intraparty debate on revising the Constitution, including the war-renouncing Article 9, should be promoted.

Yukio Edano, chairman of the DP's Research Commission on the Constitution and a former secretary-general, is not completely against constitutional amendments, such as putting restrictions on the right to dissolve the House of Representatives, but he is against the revision of Article 9, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to push forth, characterizing the effort as "essentially a sham." Edano has experience in the 2016 House of Councillors election as then DP secretary-general leading a united front with the JCP and other opposition parties, and takes an enthusiastic stance toward such inter-party cooperation in the next general election.

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