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Lawmakers from DP eye post-election regrouping as Party of Hope loses steam

Former Democratic Party (DP) leader Katsuya Okada, center, shakes hands with other former legislators of the DP at the Mie Prefectural Government building on Oct. 8, 2017. (Mainichi)

Former legislators from the disintegrating opposition Democratic Party (DP) are looking to band together after the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election to counter the ruling coalition, as the new conservative Party of Hope that many DP members joined faces sluggish popularity.

Former DP leader Katsuya Okada, who is running in the general election as an independent belonging to the DP, said during a speech in Inabe, Mie Prefecture, on the evening of Oct. 13, "The DP has split up, but I haven't given up. After the election, there will arise a need to band opposition forces together again. We as independents have the responsibility to be an axis in making that reassembly a large force."

Okada has set up a network of former DP legislators who are running in the election as independents, and the network's members have been stumping for former DP legislators running either on the ticket of the Party of Hope or the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), or as independents. Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who is also running in the poll as an independent and has thrown his support behind the network, has similarly campaigned in support of such candidates, regardless of which parties are backing them.

Okada and Noda's support for Party of Hope candidates despite their own refusal to join the new party apparently stems from their expectations for accelerating a post-election realignment of opposition forces centering on former DP legislators, including those who joined the Party of Hope. As the new party, led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, has failed to clearly map out its post-election scenario in the event that it wins a lower house majority, Okada and Noda have keenly felt the need to present a solid opposition bloc countering the ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

There are many former DP legislators who had no choice but to join the Party of Hope due to circumstances in their own constituencies, and it is possible that some members will return to the DP once the election battle is over.

With the Party of Hope losing steam despite its launch to much fanfare, a former DP lawmaker who is running on the ticket of the Party of Hope lamented, "It would have been 100 times better if I had run on the DP ticket."

Toshio Ogawa, head of the DP's House of Councillors caucus, is calling for the DP to continue beyond the election. Okada and his allies plan to hold a meeting of DP members of both houses of the Diet after the election to obtain approval from the DP's upper house caucus to continue the party, making it a magnet for former DP legislators.

Koike has expressed her displeasure with the moves to alienate former DP legislators who snuggled up to her Party of Hope. She told reporters on Oct. 13, "That's none of our business. They had an option of staying with the DP (instead of coming to the Party of Hope)." However, she raved about Noda during a speech in Tokyo, calling him a "key player in moving Japan's politics a great deal" and emphasizing the camaraderie she had with him going back to their days as executives of the now-defunct Japan New Party.

Koike praised Noda despite her new party's refusal to take him in on the grounds that he once served as prime minister. This is likely because she has been slammed for filtering out some DP members who aspired to run on her party's ticket and is wary of Noda and Okada becoming magnetic centers for former DP legislators post-election.

Reassembling former DP lawmakers after the general election, however, will inevitably trigger criticism that they are getting back together even though they made different pledges from different parties in the election. Former DP deputy president Yukio Edano, who recently established the CDP, has expressed a positive stance toward cooperating with the DP after the election, but has denied that he himself would return to the party.

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