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Constitutional Democratic Party makes minimal gains amid concerns of misguided campaign

Yukio Edano, leader of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, puts up a nameplate of a candidate who won the July 21 House of Councillors election in Tokyo's Minato Ward on July 21, 2019. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) looks set to double the number of its seats in the House of Councillors in the July 21 election, but won't make advances like the 32 seats obtained in the 2016 election by the now defunct Democratic Party, then the largest opposition party.

With the failure to establish a foothold against the Liberal Democratic Party's dominant position in the upper house, a sense of failure has begun to spread among the CDP camp.

Although it chose to plow its own furrow rather than seeking to reintegrate with other opposition parties that were originally part of the Democratic Party, such as the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), it's likely that there will be more calls for the policy to be reconsidered for the next election.

Ahead of the vote, party leader Yukio Edano did not specify what result would have to be achieved to consider the election a success. On the subject of a potential seat number that could bring his leadership into question, he only said, "It (my leadership) is for everyone inside the party to judge."

At a press conference convened on the night of July 21, Edano said, "I think we sharply increased our strength. The outcome will help us play a more active role of monitoring the administrative branch."

But members of the party's leadership betrayed a sense of crisis. "We've started from a small base, so these gains are nothing to celebrate. You can't say that we've increased the representation of opposition parties in the house," they said.

In the 2017 House of Representatives Election, which the party contested shortly after its founding, it went from 15 to 55 seats in the house, catapulting it to top of the opposition parties.

But the party appears to be losing its momentum. During the previous ordinary session of the Diet, in which there were fears that the prime minister would dissolve the lower house, the CDP vacillated over whether to issue a no-confidence motion against the Abe Cabinet.

Because it eventually did issue one only after the Abe administration had declared it did not intend to go ahead with dissolution, the party failed to demonstrate its confrontation with the government prior to the upper house poll. One individual connected to the party aired their concerns, saying, "We should have made our point of dispute clearer, and thrown ourselves into an electoral contest."

The CDP's fight for the initiative with the DPFP caused the main opposition party to lose its momentum. In single-seat constituencies in which a unified candidate was fielded by opposition parties, the CDP reduced its backing for candidates from a "recommendation" to just "support," affording the candidates a lower level of assistance from the party.

It also competed against the DPFP in constituencies where multiple seats were up for grabs. In the Shizuoka electoral district, where two seats were being contested, in which it was difficult for the opposition camp to monopolize the vote, the party poured support into fielding a candidate against the area's serving DPFP legislator.

While some in the CDP feared the tactics could leave bitter feelings with the DPFP, Renho, secretary-general of the CDP upper house caucus, was repeatedly dispatched to the Shizuoka constituency to support its own candidate. Critics have pointed out that the CDP committed its energy to a war of attrition while forgetting to fight against the LDP.

On the campaign pledges front, the CDP strived to differentiate itself from the LDP's policies with commitments to economic measures designed to appeal to voters such as improving the minimum guarantees on the public pension, and said it would eradicate discrimination against LGBT groups to try to appeal to a diverse range of voters.

But inside the party there were calls for more attention grabbing policies that could capture votes, with others criticizing its offering as insufficient for the largest opposition party.

For its strategy against the LDP at the next lower house election, the CDP is set to back unified opposition candidacies for single-seat constituencies, but at the moment it doesn't appear as if there is a strong enough cooperative framework with the other parties for it to do this.

A member of the CDP's leadership has indicated that the party may only pursue "compartmentalized" cooperative measures in which the party doesn't field candidates in constituencies held by a currently serving member of the DPFP.

(Japanese original by Minami Nomaguchi, Political News Department)

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