Democratic Party (DP) leader Renho announced her resignation as the head of the largest opposition party on July 27, effectively taking responsibility for her failure to calm down party turmoil after its crushing defeat in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
The timing of her announcement, as well as the way she spearheaded the party's discussions over recent weeks, can be described as nothing less than pathetic.
In the immediate aftermath of the DP's poor showing in the July 2 Tokyo assembly poll, where the party had its seats reduced to a mere five, Renho and DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda announced that they had no intention of giving up their posts. The duo apparently believed that they would be able to weather through the adversity as the DP's election loss was overshadowed by the historic defeat of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the same race and the DP was stepping up its efforts to grill Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government over his favoritism scandals and other issues.
However, the DP's in-house turmoil rather intensified after Renho disclosed a portion of her family register to clarify her nationality in a bid to dispel criticism against her staying in power. Noda's subsequent announcement that he would resign as party secretary-general also generated the impression that he would sacrifice himself to protect Renho. We must say the party leader has made a series of misjudgments that were detrimental to the DP.
As Renho has conceded, there is a growing "centrifugal force" working within the DP rather than a "centripetal force." She apparently found it extremely difficult to stick to her position as some DP lawmakers have suggested defecting from the party after the Tokyo election disaster.
A host of problems has arisen over Prime Minister Abe's government administration. Nevertheless, the top opposition DP has not functioned as an effective alternative to the ruling coalition for those who are critical of it, as evident in the DP's humiliating loss in the Tokyo assembly contest. Renho obviously lacked a sense of crisis over these sheer realities.
The DP's party culture has also largely contributed to the disorder. The party elected Renho as its leader despite concerns over her political prowess in an attempt to feature her in election campaigns -- rather than preparing for a change of government. Regardless, the party failed to support her properly after she stumbled over her "dual nationality" issue at the outset of her presidency.
Ever since the days of its predecessor the Democratic Party of Japan, the DP has traditionally left intraparty conflict over its principles and policy measures unaddressed. Even after merging with the then Japan Innovation Party, the DP has shown no signs of interest in overcoming the lack of coordination within the party.
With Renho's resignation, the DP is now set to pick its next leader. However, regardless of who heads the party, the situation where the DP's very survival is being jeopardized may remain unchanged.
In representative democracy, the presence of political parties is imperative. Since Japan shifted to a single-seat constituency system, the largest opposition party has been expected to take over the government in the event the governing party loses in a national election. The current situation, therefore, is critical in that the main opposition DP is having an even harder time shaping its own course than the ruling LDP and its coalition partner Komeito. The problem not only concerns the DP's fate as a political party, but also the fundamental issue of whether our country can keep party politics viable.