The House of Representatives race, which is turning into a head-on clash between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, has effectively kicked off, even though official campaigning is not scheduled to start until Oct. 10.
The situation is chaotic. Koike, who heads her newly founded Kibo no To (Party of Hope), met with Seiji Maehara, president of the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), on Sept. 29 and they agreed to cooperate in the election. However, a gap between the two appears to be widening over how their parties will work together. The DP has effectively decided to merge into Kibo no To.
Koike rejected Maehara's request that the entire DP merge into the new party, and instead said she will be selective in allowing DP members to run in the election on the ticket of her party. Attention is focused on the criteria Kibo no To will set for officially endorsing candidates from the DP.
The leader of the fledgling party has suggested that DP legislators' position on Japan's security-related laws will be among the criteria for accepting them into her party. Since the DP has been opposed to the laws, which have opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, this is quite a high hurdle for DP candidates.
At the same time, Koike appears to believe that her party needs to work together with the DP to a certain extent in order to field a large number of candidates across the country. It is no easy task for her to both secure a significant number of candidates and maintain consistency in basic policies.
Lessons should be learned from the DP's 20-plus years of experience as a political party, during which it rose to power after taking on conservative politicians and increasing its strength in the Diet, but then failed to properly run the government.
Yukio Hatoyama, who left the now-defunct New Party Sakigake, played a key role in founding the DP's predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and later became prime minister. Rather than simply merging Sakigake and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) into the DPJ, he allowed individual Sakigake and SDP members to decide whether to join the DPJ.
Eventually, a large number of SDP legislators moved to the DPJ. Concerns were raised from the DPJ's early days over how to narrow the wide gap in views on the war-renouncing Constitution and security policy between legislators. In the end, rising to power appeared to be its sole aim. Internal strife within the DP over philosophy and basic policies has continued throughout its history -- with the party now deciding to merge into Kibo no To.
There is no denying that Kibo no To appears to have attracted members based on common opposition to the Abe administration. However, that alone is insufficient for preventing a repetition of the DPJ's misrule. Kibo no To should not select candidates without regard for principles.
Regarding its anti-Abe stance, questions remain as to whether founding members of Kibo no To are opposed to Abe's high-handed political style or his philosophy and basic policies. Kibo no To, which describes itself as a "tolerant, reform-minded conservative party," has not yet clarified its basic policies.
It is clear that Koike's new party is enthusiastic about revising the postwar Constitution, but has not specified which clauses the party aims to amend. The party could work out specific criteria for whether it will endorse candidates by clarifying its policy toward constitutional amendment.
Koike has denied that she will run in the lower house race. If so, Kibo no To should decide who its candidate for prime minister will be before campaigning kicks off.