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Opposition parties eye teamwork with Reiwa Shinsengumi in next general election

Taro Yamamoto is seen with supporters of his Reiwa Shinsengumi political group as ballots are counted in the House of Councillors election, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on the night of July 21, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- Key opposition parties are wooing fledgling political party Reiwa Shinsengumi after it swept two severely disabled candidates into House of Councillors seats in the July 21 election.

Opposition parties hope that embracing the rising party will help boost the opposition bloc's profile in the next general election.

The main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) are among those eyeing collaboration with Reiwa Shinsengumi, which achieved its electoral success just months after its launch in April.

However, differences remain over policy measures put forward by the key opposition parties and Reiwa Shinsengumi, headed by actor and politician Taro Yamamoto.

While Reiwa Shinsengumi advocates abolishing Japan's consumption tax and immediately banning nuclear power plants in Japan, it is unlikely opposition parties would easily align themselves with the new party on those policy lines. There is also wariness within the opposition camp that Reiwa could whittle away votes from other opposition parties.

In a TV Asahi program on July 25, Yamamoto suggested he was open to collaborating with the opposition camp in the next nationwide election.

"We'd like to aim for a regime change by joining hands with other opposition parties," he said.

As he lost his seat in the upper chamber in the July 21 election, he announced his intention to run in the next House of Representatives race, and even declared his ultimate aim of becoming prime minister.

Behind his confidence lies Reiwa Shinsengumi's strong showing. The party earned 4.55%, or 2.28 million votes in the proportional representation bloc in the upper house election, which allowed it to clear the 2% mark necessary to acquire political party status. Even though Yamamoto himself was defeated, he collected 990,000 individual votes, the highest among all proportional representation candidates.

In an apparent bid to jump on the bandwagon, most opposition party leaders mentioned collaboration with the new party. At a July 21 press conference, CDP leader Yukio Edano said, "We hail Reiwa Shinsengumi's achievement as proof that forces supported by those critical of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have prevailed. We'd appreciate it if we could collaborate with the party in the Diet and in the run-up to the next lower house election."

DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki also told a July 24 media conference, "Mr. Yamamoto was in the same parliamentary faction as our party before the upper house election," underscoring the DPFP's proximity to Reiwa Shinsengumi. Tamaki suggested he would like to consult with Yamamoto over ways their parties could cooperate.

While the major opposition parties jointly fielded candidates in constituencies where only one seat was up for grabs in the July 21 upper house election, the opposition bloc managed to win only 10 of those seats, conceding 22 seats to the ruling coalition. This marked a setback from the previous upper house contest in 2016, in which the opposition bloc garnered 11 seats in such constituencies. If Reiwa Shinsengumi were to join the united front with the opposition parties, it could work as a catalyst for their success in the bloc.

There remain some difficulties, however. In a TV program on July 25, Yamamoto pointed out that merely fielding joint candidates "would be weak" as a campaign strategy. He insisted that the consumption tax should at least be lowered back to 5% from the current 8%, and that he would do his utmost if his party could align with other opposition parties on that 5% sales tax platform. While the CDP calls for freezing the government's plan to raise the sales tax to 10% in October, Yamamoto remarked, "I'd like to see tax reductions absolutely guaranteed. Freezing a policy runs the potential risk of it being unfrozen."

A cautious Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the CDP, told reporters on July 25, "Once the Abe administration raises the sales tax to 10%, the most we could say is that it should be returned to 8%."

JCP leader Kazuo Shii gave a positive response to the prospect of working with Yamamoto's party, saying, "We have policy measures lying in the same direction."

There are strong views within the opposition bloc that a fairly large number of votes that were originally intended for the CDP and JCP were snapped up by Reiwa Shinsengumi in the July 21 election.

"Our handling of Yamamoto is crucial," commented a senior CDP legislator.

DPFP leader Tamaki, meanwhile, said, "It may be possible to abolish the consumption tax," but added, "If the tax were to be scrapped, we would also have to think about alternative revenue sources."

(Japanese original by Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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