What is the next step for the Japanese opposition?
It is hard to imagine a worse result for the Japanese opposition after suffering a heavy blow in the general election on October 31. upper house elections next year. It would also have confirmed that their strategy was paying off. But despite the candidates’ coordination with the Communist Party of Japan (JCP), the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the JCP both lost 13 seats, a result that defied political forecasts. The turnout remained at 55% despite the unpopularity of then-Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide and the effect of his COVID-19 policy on people’s livelihoods. Young people, known for their stubbornly low turnout, overwhelmingly chose the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) over the alternatives. The result shows that the LDP dominance experienced under former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s second term from 2012 to 2020 appears to be more permanent than many anticipated – and if the opposition is to overcome this reality, it will have to do very careful with the lessons she chooses. to learn.
On the one hand, the strategy of coordination between the CDP, the JCP, the Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi has undoubtedly been crowned with success. If cooperation has made it possible to create more competitive races, then this is proof that cooperation must be deepened and the candidates better prepared. Conversely, if the presence of the JCP cost the CDP the votes it needed to win, then it must rethink both its alliance but also the electoral viability of its more left-wing policy. Ideally, this election would have settled this debate. Ultimately, the coordinated opposition succeeded in creating more competitive races and even mind-boggling upheavals. The defeat of top PLD lawmakers such as Secretary General Amari Akira in Kanagawa and Ishihara Nobuteru in the Tokyo 8 electoral division demonstrated that the PLD’s grip on power is more tenuous than it often appears.
So why did it matter so little in the total count? The sudden increase in votes for the Japan Innovation Party (JIP) gives us some clues. So-called “third force” parties tend to increase their share of seats when disgust with the current choice between government and opposition is high. With the JCP now completely hidden in opposition coverage, the PIJ stood in many districts as the only protest vote. As voters flock to the PIJ, particularly outside their home port of Osaka, it seems clear that voters are once again rejecting the opposition and looking for alternatives that offer a clearer break with the status quo of the mainstream politics.
The suggestion to bet on cooperation always has merit. One thing this election failed to do was properly prepare single-member districts for a unified opposition candidate. The leadership’s fear of a reaction from the anti-JCP unions prevented them from announcing the collaboration until the day after the election was announced. The CDP depended on what political commentator Nakajima Takeshi called the “shock doctrine” in an issue of Shûkan Kinyôbi which is the concept of waiting until the last possible moment to delve into the last details without too much hindsight.
Leaving the JCP is not a realistic option for a progressive opposition party
Critics of the CDP’s alliance with the JCP will take this opportunity to claim that voters turned away from the opposition because it was too close to the Communists. This, if true, is a non-starter. Leaving the JCP is not a realistic proposition for a progressive opposition party. In Tokyo alone, the presence of a JCP candidate in many nearby districts would have literally decimated the vote share of the CDP candidate and eliminated any possibility of victory for the opposition. Nonetheless, the argument will be convincing for the party which seeks to reorganize its political preferences more to the right and sees cooperation as an obstacle. For example, the People’s Democratic Party announced that it will no longer work so closely with the rest of the opposition in parliament and is now preparing to work with the PIJ to focus on adopting the policy by the Diet. , starting with a proposal to freeze the tax on rising gasoline prices.
Then there is the question of who should lead the CDP. This election marked the end of a long reorganization of the opposition under the leadership of Edano Yukio who is the oldest leader of an opposition party since the end of the Socialist Party. The past four years have been surprisingly stable and Edano deserves it. But at the same time, part of that stability is due to the fact that there haven’t been a general election where his leadership and vision could be put to the test – until now.
Edano’s replacement will be decided at the end of this month. Four candidates collected the 20 recommendations required to run for the head of the party. Ogawa Junya, gained national notoriety after last year’s documentary Why can’t you be Prime Minister? and the various books he has contributed to over the past year. Meanwhile, Izumi Kenta, President of the Policy Research Council and the youngest candidate, has more clout to push the party behind her vision. Nishimura Chinami and Osaka Seiji, both founding members of CDP in 2017, presented themselves as contenders for continuity with plans to invest in education and protect vulnerable regions from market forces. None of them provide particularly distinct visions, but they generally agree on the need to properly define what the party stands for while promising to make the party more welcoming to people with different ideas for the common goal of win a national election. At this stage, they have not yet wanted to express themselves too definitively on the issue of cooperation.
Advances in gender equality in politics are an advantage as the CDP could take control of the ruling LDP coalition. The fact that there is one female candidate at all is a relief for the CDP given its overt support for gender equality. Until Nishimura decided to run relatively late in the process, there were hardly any female candidates whose names were put forward. Only 26 of the 140 CDP Diet members are women, and only half of them are in the larger lower house. Indeed, if they had not lost their former head of Diet affairs, Tsujimoto Kiyomi in this election, they would have had a serious competitor at their fingertips. The significant decline in the representation of women in the Diet and the CDP’s own difficulty in finding female candidates means that a female leader would both offer a potential future prime minister and simply give the party the impression that it is doing what it is. ‘he preaches.
Whoever the next leader of the opposition is, the commitment to building a grassroots organization should be a priority
The next party leader will have to reinvigorate his initial commitment to the grassroots organization that languished. The LDP wins the elections largely because it is the ruling party, but also because its regional candidates are deeply rooted in their communities. Even when the party’s esteem is low, people are just even more likely to vote for the devil they know. Breaking this obstacle is one of the most important, though less visible, tasks of the opposition. Although CDP started in 2017 with a message of building a bottom-up structure, very little of that was achieved in the years that followed, with power focused more on leadership. One notable case led to a confrontation with Ozawa Ichiro, chief of the Iwate section, over whether the section or Tokyo should decide on the candidate for the lower house of the prefecture in 2021. This disconnect between the declared values of the party and its actions is a consequence of the leadership’s attempt to manage the liberal and conservative wings of the party, but the disconnect continues to stand in the way of a sustainable strategy that allows regional branches to find and nurture themselves. candidates, and it has to come from below.
In the long history of opposition realignment, this election just doesn’t offer a clear signal on how to move forward with a lot of things that are still flowing like leadership and grassroots development. And a little more than six months before the upper house election leaves the opposition with only the smallest of margins in determining a new course of action. Yet the question of what to do with the alliance with the JCP remains and it will take decisive leadership on the matter – something Edano ultimately failed to provide – and a serious attempt to reflect his ideals in the roster. and party organization. It also means risking Edano’s balance between centrists and progressives, but maybe it’s now become a gamble worth taking.