A group of independent lawmakers with opposition leanings will be dissolved, and many of its 13 members, including leader Katsuya Okada, are likely to merge with the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP).
Okada and the others have worked to get the two main opposition parties -- the CDP and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) -- to join together again, and overcome their split from the now-defunct Democratic Party (DP). However, former DP members have divergent political views and policies. The party itself used to be criticized as a group of "odds and ends," and will not be able to regain voter support by simply returning to their previous form.
Dissolving the group of independents was a realistic decision. However, the expected merger between the CDP and the independents poses the possibility for criticism over an important policy issue. The main opposition party is opposed to the consumption tax hike slated for October 2019. But among the independents to join are former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and others who orchestrated the hike in tandem with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito in 2012, during the rule of the DPJ. If these independents merge into the CDP without making their positions on this important policy clear, it will once again beckon criticism. The key to a successful merger is in fact this position on the tax hike.
There are also other concerns with the CDP and DPFP. During the just-ended extraordinary session of the Diet, the two parties jointly opposed to the government-sponsored bill to accept more foreign workers. They pointed to errors in the data on foreign technical trainees presented by the Ministry of Justice, and shed light on the hardships endured by those workers, including their suicides. These can be said to be achievements for the two parties.
However, when the ruling bloc, mainly composed of the LDP and Komeito, rammed the bill through the Diet, the DPFP discussed the possibility of attaching a resolution reflecting its cooperation with the bill at the House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee. This move ignited distrust among the members of the CDP. Meanwhile, the CDP did not support the DPFP's proposal to submit a no-confidence motion against the entire Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The DPFP is trying to clarify the difference between its position and that of the CDP's, while the CDP, the largest opposition party, is trying to maintain the upper hand in the opposition camp. Behind this tug of war lie efforts by both sides to get ahead in the selection of candidates for the upper house election next year. But they are mistaken in selecting one another as their main adversary.
The Diet has been losing significance. The prime responsibility for this situation should be shouldered by the ruling camp, which failed to allocate enough time for deliberation on important bills and overwhelmed the opposition with its strong majority in both houses of the legislature.
Nevertheless, if the two main opposition parties continue to fight among themselves because of bruises left by their divorce last fall, they are too self-absorbed to be relevant in national politics. What they should be competing to create are policies for the people of Japan.
The CDP, which will gain more seats as a result of the planned merger, bears the greatest responsibility to lead in this regard. In reaction to the right-leaning Abe administration, the main opposition is continuing its leftward drift, reinforcing the impression that its only role is saying no to the ruling bloc. As we have repeatedly pointed out, a political landscape with a vacuum in the center is not a desirable situation.
The bill to accept more foreign workers has now been passed into law. But the CDP still has an important role to play. It must present a desirable system for welcoming workers from overseas. Making such an effort should lead to better performance of the party in the House of Councillors election next summer.