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Editorial: More substantial debate needed from Japan opposition leadership hopefuls

It has been a week since the contest to choose a new leader for the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) began. How should the party rebuild itself in the wake of former head Yukio Edano's resignation to take responsibility for the party's loss in the Oct. 31 House of Representatives election? The four candidates, Seiji Osaka, Junya Ogawa, Kenta Izumi and Chinami Nishimura, have staged debates across the country in recent days.

    It's difficult to say, however, that their debate on what route the party should take has been substantial, perhaps because they are afraid of differences of opinion within the party surfacing.

    Party members who have been with the CDP since its inception, and those who joined from other political parties including the now-defunct Party of Hope, have not completely smoothed out their differences. Within the party, most views on the leadership election take the line that, depending on who is chosen, the party will shift to the left or right.

    This situation could cause conflict to simmer within the party.

    One area where this can be seen is in the debate over the CDP's association with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP).

    Regarding the decision to put forward unified candidates with the JCP in single-member districts during the recently held lower house election, all four leadership candidates have taken the stance that it was "not a mistake."

    In regard to the CDP-JCP agreement that, in the event the former took power, the latter will cooperate "as a non-Cabinet partner," all four have said some kind of review would be required.

    But no candidate has outlined clearly how they would review the agreement. The House of Councillors election is next summer. There needs to be a certain level of consent on the matter in the leadership election.

    In successive debates, three candidates -- Osaka, Ogawa and Izumi -- have said the party needs to spread its wings. It appears this means not just the left-wing base it has focused on up to now, but also expanding its focus to gain support from centrist voters. Conversely, Nishimura has said, "There are supporters who worry the party's position will be shaken."

    What's needed to dispel these concerns is a clear vision that goes beyond left and right to outline what kind of country the party wants to create.

    Osaka reflected on the last general election and said, "Was there a real sense that it was an election to decide the administration to run this country? The people did not think so."

    Despite strong claims from the party that it was an election for changing who runs Japan, the election results showed that many voters still feel unable to entrust the CDP with forming a government.

    If the party acknowledges this, then there is all the greater need for it to show to the people a more tangible vision of the country's future. We want to see the candidates engage in more substantial debate ahead of the leadership vote on Nov. 30.

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