The Democratic Party (DP) has decided to continue as a party, while its leader Seiji Maehara, who had initially agreed to a merger with the newly formed Party of Hope led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, has stepped down. The party will now set out afresh, with 46 legislators in the House of Councillors taking the lead. Upper house legislator Kohei Otsuka was elected as the party's new leader without a vote.
In the recent House of Representatives election, the party split up in three directions -- some legislators joining the new Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), some the Party of Hope, and some running as independents. As a party, the DP has receded from the lower house, but there are still members of the chamber who belong to it. This is because 13 lawmakers who were elected as independents stayed registered with the DP and formed a faction of independents. In reality, this could be called a DP faction, but the situation is a little unclear.
Otsuka has spoken of his aspirations of striving to have the government change hands in the next lower house election, with the CDP, the Party of Hope and the DP uniting in a joint effort. The DP still has local organizations across Japan and holds political funds said to total more than 10 billion yen. The CDP, Hope party and DP will carry out their activities separately for the time being, but the DP probably has its sights on receiving other legislators in the future in a regrouping of the opposition parties.
In terms of factions in the House of Representatives, the "civic club" led by the CDP has 55 members, the "independent club" headed by the Party of Hope has 51, and the "association of independents" has 13. Looking at their roots, the majority of these legislators originally belonged to the DP. If they regrouped and returned to the DP, the party would have about 120 members.
However, regardless of the legislators' backgrounds, the CDP and Party of Hope split due to differences over principles and policies. If the legislators were to return to their original "sheath" after the election, they would basically be making light of voters who cast their votes for them as representatives of other parties.
The DP in the past faced internal dissension over issues including the Constitution, security, and nuclear power plants. Some said that they felt better that legislators had split up into the liberal CDP and conservative Party of Hope.
At the same time, however, the two newly formed parties are still fragile. Koike's unifying force as leader of the Party of Hope has declined, and there has been talk of a possible split in the party. One can understand the DP's position of wanting to form a bridge between the CDP and Party of Hope to stand against the political state of affairs in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe alone is dominant.
First of all, the DP needs to express its position in a special session of the Diet convened on Nov. 1. The Abe administration has proposed reducing the time for questioning by opposition parties, as it is reluctant to face a grilling over the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution scandals centering on allegations of favoritism. These are issues that strike the foundations of democracy, and there is a need for the opposition parties to band together in battle over the issues.
Meanwhile, many voters probably got the impression at one stage or other that the DP had disbanded. The only thing that can be done now is clear away the difficulties people might have in understanding why the party is continuing by producing results in the Diet in a jointly waged opposition party battle.