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Democratic Party for the People launched with little sense of excitement

Members of the newly formed Democratic Party for the People raise their fists at the end of its inaugural convention in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on May 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

The general public is apathetic about the Democratic Party for the People, which was launched by legislators who belonged to two opposition parties on May 7.

The executives of the two opposition parties -- the Democratic Party (DP) and the Party of Hope -- played a leading role in forming the new party. However, 45 of 107 Diet members who previously belonged to these two parties, or over 40 percent, refused to join.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who chose not to join the Democratic Party for the People, wrote on his website that he "felt no sense of elation or excitement" about the launch of the party.

The fact that the executives of the DP and Party of Hope made haste to establish the new party while the Diet is in session reflects the Japanese Trade Union Confederation's concern about how it should support candidates from labor unions, who now belong to different opposition parties, in the summer 2019 House of Councillors election.

Twenty-seven out of 53 DP legislators who left the party because they had decided not to join the Democratic Party for the People include influential politicians such as Noda and former Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada.

Okada, who was leader of the DP when it was founded, told reporters after notifying the party leadership that he would leave the organization, "This is the first time that I've left a political party since I quit the Liberal Democratic Party (in 1993). We had strived for politics in which a transfer of power occurs over the past 20 years, and I've played a key role in these efforts. It's regrettable that this party is falling apart."

Noda held a news conference at the Chiba Prefectural Government headquarters to announce that he would not join the new party.

"My party affiliation has undergone changes, but this is the first time that I've left a political party because of disbandment or a merger," he said.

With regard to the launch of the new party during a Diet session, Noda said, "If I specifically described the situation, I could drag down the new party, but I feel the move is hard to understand in my eyes as a legislator."

There was confusion in the process of forming the new party. Yoshio Hachiro, chairman of the DP's executive panel, quit the party before its last meeting before the new party's inaugural convention, forcing DP Secretary-General Teruhiko Mashiko to serve as acting chairman of the meeting.

Of 54 legislators with the Party of Hope, 18 chose not to join the Democratic Party for the People. The 18 include former National Public Safety Commission Chairman Jin Matsubara, who was a founding member of the Party of Hope, and former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shinji Tarutoko, who led the Party of Hope's election strategy in the October 2017 House of Representatives race.

Junya Ogawa, a Party of Hope member of the lower chamber, also decided not to enter the new party. "Let me start over as an independent. I struggled as I was caught between a sense of moral obligation and human feelings and my political beliefs," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Legislators who joined the Democratic Party for the People also feel that the public has reacted coolly to the inauguration of the new party.

"If people begin to think, 'This organization is useful,' such feelings will gradually turn into trust in us," said Yuichi Goto, a member of the lower chamber.

"The most important thing is to make sure people think it's all right to leave (politics) to us," commented lower house member Atsushi Oshima.

In the meantime, both lawmakers who joined the Democratic Party for the People and those who chose not to do so are determined to reintegrate the former DP force, which has been split into the new party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and independents.

"We look at the same summit, share the same goal," said co-leader Yuichiro Tamaki who previously served as head of the Party of Hope.

Kohei Otsuka, another co-leader who previously led the DP, expressed hope that those who did not join the Democratic Party for the People may join the new party later. "Those who did not join us have various circumstances," he said.

Independents who previously belonged to the DP are a key to reintegration. Okada leads a parliamentary alliance, the "Mushozoku-no-kai" ("group of independents"), in the lower chamber.

Regarding his role in reintegration of the former DP force, Okada wrote in his email magazine, "We'll aim to be a large bloc that can serve as a bridge between the CDP and the Democratic Party for the People."

Lower chamber member Hiroshi Ogushi, who did not join the new party, told a news conference, "I've deemed it better to remain independent in order to create such a large bloc."

However, a road map toward the second-phase of the realignment of opposition parties remains unclear. The new party's stance toward the security-related legislation, which has opened the way for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a limited way, is vague. "The party will conduct a necessary review of the laws, including the possibility of retracting provisions that some have pointed out are unconstitutional," its basic policy says.

Former Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who did not join the new party, expressed concerns that the Democratic Party for the People could make the same mistake as the defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the predecessor of the DP, unless the new party has a clear security policy.

"At a convention (of the new party), few members made mention of diplomatic and security policies and the Constitution. It's all right that individual legislators differ over policy details. But the new party could follow in the DPJ's wake unless the party clarifies its stance toward these issues," Hosono said.

(Japanese original by Tetsuya Kageyama, Political News Department)

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