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No guarantee candidates cut free by DP will find new home in 'Party of Hope'

Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara leaves a meeting room at the party headquarters in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, after a news conference on Sept. 28, 2017. (Mainichi)

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) decided on Sept. 28 to merge into Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Kibo no To (Party of Hope) without clear prospects that the new party will endorse all DP candidates for the upcoming House of Representatives race.

During a closed-door meeting of DP legislators and lower house candidates in Tokyo, many attendees asked whether Koike's party will endorse them in the upcoming House of Representatives election. In response, DP leader Seiji Maehara said only, "I'll coordinate views with Ms. Koike over the matter." Therefore, it remains to be seen whether Kibo will comply with DP candidate selection requests.

Still, the persistently unpopular DP has few choices but to merge with the new party to survive. Under the circumstances, legislators and candidates present at the meeting approved the proposal to "reset" the party's two-decade history.

During the hour-long meeting, over 10 legislators and lower house candidates expressed their opinions or asked questions about the DP's proposal to merge into Kibo no To. Few expressed stiff opposition to the move, though multiple members asked about Kibo no To's general election candidate selection.

"The new party should endorse all DP candidates," one member said, to which Maehara replied, "I'll never let them (the new party) screen out our candidates."

Afterwards, it appeared that the meeting had dispelled many of the legislators' and lower house candidates' worries about their party's future prospects, with former Finance Minister Jun Azumi commenting, "Today is a historic day for our party in that nobody expressed opposition to the leadership's proposal.

"Frankly speaking, the DP has no ability to take over the reins of government. Nor does Ms. Koike alone have such ability. We can secure enough local organizations and candidates as well as a leader to confront Prime Minister Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition," Azumi added.

Koichiro Genba, deputy head of the DP's election taskforce, hailed the party's decision, saying, "It's a bold decision to save the party from serious crisis."

In contrast, House of Councillors member Hideya Sugio said of the merger, "It's a shame."

Shoichi Kondo, a DP vice president regarded as a liberal legislator, said, "The question is how each legislator will interpret the move."

Tomoko Abe, a DP legislator originally from the opposition Social Democratic Party, lamented that one of the conditions for joining Kibo no To was to leave the DP. "I haven't done anything that would result in punishment. Why should I have to quit the party?

"It's DP members who are supporting my election campaigning. If I had to leave the party, it'd be like running away from home and leaving my children behind," she said. She added that she has not yet decided whether to ask Kibo no To to officially endorse her in the upcoming election.

Some DP legislators are looking into running in the election as independents.

The DP had decided to field some 220 candidates in the Oct. 22 election. However, if most Kibo no To candidates hail from the DP, the new party could face criticism from the governing bloc. At the Sept. 28 meeting of DP legislators, one attendee said, "We could be criticized for merging with the new party for self-protection."

The DP had performed well in Hokkaido, Tohoku and other regional areas in the 2014 lower house election and the 2016 upper house poll. Members of these local chapters feel that they can win as DP candidates if they join hands with other opposition parties including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP). One attendee proposed that if candidates in rural areas run on a DP ticket and those in urban regions on a Kibo ticket, they can expand their strength.

However, Maehara sought understanding of the proposal to merge into Kibo. "I'd like you to be aware of our miserable situation nationwide," he said. Many candidates facing grim electoral prospects in urban constituencies concurred, and in the end the merger proposal was adopted at the meeting.

Takahiro Sasaki, head of the DP's Hokkaido chapter whose alliance with the JCP's local chapter for the upcoming election was progressing, told reporters, "We have no choice but to redraw our election strategy."

Confusion within the DP continues, with two members -- lower house lawmaker Mito Kakizawa and upper house member Sachiko Hirayama -- having notified the DP leadership on Sept. 28 that they will leave the party.

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