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DP leader Maehara to propose merger with Liberal Party prior to election

Seiji Maehara, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, speaks during an executive board meeting at the party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 26, 2017. (Mainichi)

Seiji Maehara, leader of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), is set to propose a merger with the Liberal Party ahead of a general election expected to be called in October, DP sources said.

After merging with the opposition Liberal Party, the DP will form a united front with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Social Democratic Party in a bid to field one candidate in as many single-seat constituencies of the lower house as possible. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to dissolve the chamber on Sept. 28 for a snap general election.

Maehara is expected to make the proposal at a general meeting of DP members of both houses of the Diet to be held at party headquarters in Tokyo on Sept. 28.

However, resistance persists within the DP to its merger with the Liberal Party co-led by Ichiro Ozawa, who broke away from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the predecessor of the DP, in 2012 in protest over a decision made by the Cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the DPJ to raise the consumption tax.

Some DP members are in favor of seeking an alliance with the newly formed "Kibo no To" (Hope party) headed by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike. Therefore, Maehara's proposal could cause confusion within the DP.

Maehara told a party meeting on Sept. 26 that he will shortly make a decision on an alliance that the DP will form with other opposition parties.

"We'll put an end to the Abe government by any means," he was quoted as saying. "I'll make a decision at an early date."

Maehara held talks with Ozawa on Sept. 24 and agreed to seek a merger between their parties.

Ozawa told reporters that the DP and the Liberal Party should seek an alliance with any opposition party with which it shares policies, including Koike's new party.

"All those who share the same ideas should join hands with each other," Ozawa said.

Maehara and Ozawa met again on Sept. 26.

DP leader Maehara has sought a merger with the Liberal Party for a long time. However, he initially intended to cautiously consider the matter because opposition persists within the DP to joining hands with Ozawa.

Nevertheless, Prime Minister Abe has suddenly decided to disband the lower chamber, prompting Maehara to speed up the move toward teaming up with the Liberal Party.

Maehara held talks with DP Secretary-General Atsushi Oshima to discuss how to respond to the formation of the Kibo no To.

One high-ranking member of the DP is in favor of joining hands with the new party saying, "Ms. Koike has clarified the party's anti-LDP stance."

However, in the July Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election DP members broke away from the party when it desperately attempted to seek an alliance with Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First party), a local party close to Koike, leading to the DP suffering a crushing defeat in the poll.

A source close to the DP said some members fear that the upcoming lower house election could be a repetition of the Tokyo assembly race if the party were to join hands with Koike's new party.

The JCP is critical of Koike's party, which Communists describe as a complementary force for the LDP.

To prevent more members from defecting to other parties, the DP leadership is poised to require its candidates in the upcoming election to submit a written pledge to return money provided to them to support their election campaigns to party coffers if they are involved in anti-party actions.

However, after Koike declared that she would form a new party, five prospective DP candidates notified the DP leadership that they would leave the party. The party expelled one of them, former National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara, on disciplinary grounds.

Koike is urging some individual members of the DP to join her new party, shaking up the DP.

In the meantime, some local chapters of the DP are taking their own actions to help form a united front between opposition parties. The DP's Hokkaido chapter has decided to join hands with other opposition parties in fielding a joint candidate in all single-seat constituencies in the prefecture.

The DP's Kumamoto chapter decided not to field a candidate in the prefecture's No. 3 constituency and will instead support a candidate to be fielded by the JCP.

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