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Policy clashes could endanger opposition party cooperation in next Japan election

Legislators are seen at a House of Councillors plenary session on Oct. 4, 2019. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The success or failure of a united front among opposition parties in the next House of Representatives election hangs largely on whether they can maintain cooperation despite policy differences.

The extraordinary Diet session that kicked off on Oct. 4 is the legislature's first session since two major opposition parties -- the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) -- formed a parliamentary alliance.

The two parties are poised to join hands with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the newly founded Reiwa Shinsengumi party in grilling the government over the Oct. 1 consumption tax hike and a recently revealed scandal at Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO). In the latter, executives at the power company have admitted to taking large numbers of luxury gifts from a former deputy mayor of a town hosting one of its nuclear plants.

However, it remains to be seen whether these opposition parties can maintain unity, as there are yawning gaps between them over specific policy issues.

"If the two parties demonstrate their respective talents within the large framework (of the parliamentary alliance), then we can change politics. Let's live up to voters' expectations," CDP leader Yukio Edano told a meeting of the alliance.

"It was an enthusiastic meeting. We can better demonstrate each of our strong suits through the alliance than by fighting separately," DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki said following the meeting.

In the previous regular Diet session, questions asked by legislators belonging to these parties overlapped because the parties did not coordinate in advance, and failed to focus intensively on certain policy issues. The CDP and the DPFP were also split over their responses to legal revisions aimed at reducing Diet members' remuneration, a conflict that ended up benefiting the ruling bloc.

The CDP and the DPFP together hold 120 seats in the lower house, comprising the largest opposition force since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. A senior member of the CDP emphasized that the parliamentary alliance can secure a certain amount of time to ask questions in Diet deliberations, adding, "If we press forward with debate strategically, it'll be effective."

Challenges to future cooperation include the parties differing positions on the sales tax hike from 8 to 10%, nuclear power policy, and constitutional revisions. Moreover, some bitterness between the CDP and DPFP remains from their clashes in the July House of Councillors election.

The two parties also battled each other over key appointments to the upper chamber's Budget and Rules and Administration committees. The CDP's upper house caucus unilaterally notified the DPFP that it would appoint CDP members to both boards. The continuing discord led to the two parties holding separate caucus meetings on Oct. 4, despite the launch of the alliance.

Kohei Otsuka, head of the DPFP upper house caucus, underscored the significance of the launch of the two-party alliance. "Although there are various hurdles to overcome, it's the first step for our new force," he told a DPFP meeting.

However, Yasue Funayama, Diet affairs chief in the caucus, expressed displeasure at the CDP's move and told the same meeting, "Questions have been raised over mutual trust," casting a shadow over the two-party cooperation.

A policy issue focal point is the parties' positions on the recent sales tax increase. The CDP and the DPFP are divided over Reiwa Shinsengumi's goal of lowering the consumption tax rate to 5%. The small party has offered to form a united front with the CDP and the DPFP in the next lower house poll on condition that they support the tax cut.

The DPFP's Tamaki said the proposal is "worth considering." However, many CDP legislators are reluctant to support the idea. As Diet deliberations go on, their policy differences could come to the fore.

Policy coordination between opposition parties will be much more complex if the JCP is included in the opposition united front.

The CDP and the DPFP are aiming to nurture mutual trust through their parliamentary alliance and continue this into election cooperation between opposition parties in the next lower house race. However, they face numerous challenges.

(Japanese original by Yoshitaka Koyama, Political News Department)

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