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Maehara slammed by own party members for 'destroying' largest opposition force

Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara addresses the executive meeting of the party's prefectural chapters at the party headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 30, 2017. (Mainichi)

Embattled Democratic Party (DP) leader Seiji Maehara is facing a backlash from his own party for practically destroying Japan's largest opposition force as his decision to merge with a new party launched by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is not playing out according to his plan.

Koike has stated that her new party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) will "eliminate" DP legislators who do not agree with the new party's policy platform and ideology. On the selection of DP members who will get endorsement from the new party, Maehara told senior officials of his party's prefectural chapters on Sept. 30 that he was talking with Koike "on an equal footing." He also said, "I have told her that I wanted all (DP) members to have official backing (from the Kibo party)."

Koike, however, countered Maehara, saying on Oct. 1 that she has told him there will be "a selection" from the very beginning of the merger plan. She added, "I believe it's a matter of communication within the Democratic Party," about the confusion within the largest opposition regarding the merger with Koike's party. Koike did not seem to care about criticism from the DP over her comment about eliminating some members, telling reporters, "What I said was (the selection is) based on policy platform. It's a matter of words."

A middle-ranking DP legislator lamented Maehara's poor leadership, saying, "Why can't he see that he's being deceived by Gov. Koike?" while a long-time House of Councillors member called Maehara a "destroyer," saying that Maehara is "more of a destroyer than (veteran lawmaker Ichiro) Ozawa," who was responsible for the collapse of the 1955 party politics system in which the Liberal Democratic Party dominated the reins of the government for decades. A person related to the Japanese Trade Union Confederation -- the DP's main support base commonly known as Rengo -- also criticized Maehara, saying, "All he did was wreck the Democratic Party."

Meanwhile, the Kibo party is focused on watering down "the color of the DP." Masaru Wakasa, a former House of Representatives legislator and founding member of the new party, said during an NHK program, "We'll have a hard time working together with those who don't agree with us over basic ideas. This is plain to see if you look at the Democratic Party as an example." He added, "That is why the initial assessment (of DP members joining the Kibo party) is crucial."

Nevertheless, the Kibo party is seriously lacking people who will run in the upcoming election on its ticket. It is largely believed that qualified members of the regional political group Tomin First no kai (Tokyoites first) led by Koike "all became candidates in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election back in July and were elected," according to a source related to the DP.

In addition, it will be easier and quicker for the new party to use the DP's and Rengo's organizations spread across the country as well as their management capabilities rather than setting up its own. The DP is believed to have over 10 billion yen stored as political funds, and it will be easier for the Kibo party to raise the deposit money of 3 million yen for each candidate to run in a single-seat constituency with the DP's residual resources.

Koike's party seeks to include as many DP members as possible to quickly expand the organizational strength of the new party while eliminating those who are strongly associated with the DP, including its liberal members and former prime ministers.

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