The Yomiuri ShimbunFormer Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has become the new leader of the Democratic Party, beating former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano in the party’s presidential election on Sept. 1. Will the victory of Maehara, who is calling for conservative groups to rally, lead to the reorganization of the political world? What challenges might Maehara face in running the party? We interviewed politicians and a scholar in the field.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 2, 2017)
Make DP capable of being half of 2-party system
Shigeru Ishiba / (LDP) Former Regional Revitalization Minister
I would like to ask Mr. Maehara to nurture the Democratic Party so it is capable of taking over the helm of government. The intent behind the single-seat constituency system is to let the public choose a party to replace the ruling Liberal Democratic Party if it makes policy mistakes or has scandals. Otherwise, the right of citizens to choose the government would be infringed.
An option worthy of consideration is dissolving the DP and forming a new party. The DP has an overly wide range of policies that straddle the right and left. The party’s left-wing group is close to the Japanese Communist Party, while the right-wing group’s position could be placed further to the right than the LDP. Unless the party narrows down the range of its policies, it will head down a blind alley if it manages to take the reins of government.
Huge gaps in the diplomatic, national security and constitutional views of the nation’s two biggest parties will negatively affect Japan’s position in the international community. There are many aspects of Maehara’s views on diplomacy, national security and fiscal policy that I can sympathize with. I believe it is important that the two major parties have a similar way of thinking.
However, it is not easy to establish a two-party system in Japan. Because Japan is not a class-based society like Britain, major parties do not develop along class lines. U.S. society is also stratified, in some ways.
Moreover, in the current era, the range of policy options voters can choose from is not that wide. So if a new major party is created in Japan, it will inevitably become a party that encompasses the entire public, like the LDP. But then people will wonder, “What is the need for another such party?” This is why Japan has had difficulties in having a two-party system up until now.
I hope Mr. Maehara will learn from the mistakes of the past Democratic Party of Japan-run administration, and polishes his policies to create a party that can win a lot of support from the conservative and centrist camps — not end up with a mere gathering of non-LDP groups.
A political shake-up could happen in the future, but it’s safe to say the LDP is unlikely to suffer a major split. Even when the LDP lost power in 2009, only a few members left the party.
I do sympathize with Maehara’s policies, but I will never split the party and join hands with him. What is important is to dispel criticism toward the LDP and develop a party that will further gain the public’s trust. I once left the party with the aim of creating a conservative party that could replace the LDP, but I have taken to heart how difficult it is to achieve that goal.
House of Representatives member Masaru Wakasa, who is close to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, is aiming to form a new party by the end of this year. However, a party created by simply riding on temporary public enthusiasm will, supposing it takes the reins of government, be no good to Japan — exemplified by the failure of the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa.
However, I don’t think the LDP should confront Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites first group), a regional party effectively led by Koike. Koike still has three years remaining in her term as governor. What began in Tokyo will eventually spread to the rest of the nation. The LDP might face a hellish experience in the next lower house election if it refrains from amending ties with Koike — like the crushing defeat it suffered in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
Ishiba left the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993 to join the Japan Renewal Party, and subsequently participated in the establishment of the New Frontier Party. He rejoined the LDP in 1997 and has since served as defense minister, agriculture minister and the party’s secretary general. He is 60.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Akihisa Ota.)
Having left, I may still cooperate with DP
Goshi Hosono / (Independent) House of Representatives member, Former Environment Minister
Seiji Maehara, who was chosen as the new leader of the Democratic Party, has called for reconsidering the party’s cooperation with the Japanese Communist Party in elections. In fact, over the past two years, I had been the strongest advocate within the DP for such a policy. While the policy of cooperation was initially claimed to be limited to last year’s House of Councillors election, the foundations were laid for cooperation to continue during the next House of Representatives election. I left the party because I decided the DP had reached the point of no return. I think even Mr. Maehara will have great difficulty reversing the current direction of the party.
There will never be a system of two major political parties that enables a change of administration if the opposition party entertains extremist ideologies or makes assertions that are directly opposite to those of the ruling party.
Particularly with respect to national security, the situation surrounding North Korea has been increasingly serious, and it is a crucial point to deal with it beyond the framework of ruling and opposition. Any party, like the DP, that works together with the JCP to scrap the security-related legislation will have trouble taking power.
From the standpoint of the public, while they would prefer to have an alternative to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the DP is not viewed as an alternative. A new party of the type I am hoping to build, which would present a vision that responds to the needs of the public, could have a strong chance of garnering public support.
However, there is a high possibility any third-pole party will disappear if it is created under the single-seat constituency system. In certain cases, opposition parties separately fielding candidate may benefit the LDP. I won’t rejoin the DP, but if we can agree on policies, we may be able to cooperate with them.
Although I take a flexible stance as to the timing for establishing a new party, I want to keep in mind the periods for convening an extraordinary Diet session this autumn and an ordinary Diet session after the turn of the new year. I will meet with various Diet members while the Diet is out of session for direct talks to establish a relationship of trust and reconcile basic policies.
The fact is that I have many close friends among former DP members, as well as those who may decide to leave the party. Lower house member Masaru Wakasa, who left the LDP, also has a flexible way of thinking, and I am sympathetic to his cause.
The breakup of the LDP was part of the process that formed the administration of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, the New Frontier Party and the Democratic Party of Japan. Currently, there is no place for those who have left the LDP, and it is not a climate in which a political realignment involving the LDP is set to take place. We need to present realistic ideas and policies to become a place that can accept those who left the LDP.
Unlike national security, domestic affairs are an arena where the opposition can differentiate itself from ruling parties. We need a political party that gives consideration to those on a weaker footing in society. One pillar will be to ask wealthy senior citizens to shoulder a heavier burden regarding taxes and social insurance. We will also come out with policies to strengthen income security to address the widening income gap.
The other pillar will be the Constitution. In April, I proposed amendments to the Constitution that would include a clause to establish local autonomy. I received support from municipal leaders, and I expect my new party will collaborate with these leaders.
Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, which turned Japan into a centralized state. This is a good opportunity to reinstitute a decentralized system. I look forward to discussing amendments to the Constitution that would affect the system of national governance.
First elected as a lower house member in 2000 from the then Democratic Party of Japan. After taking posts in the DPJ administration, such as state minister in charge of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and environment minister, he served as the acting DP leader before leaving the party in August. He is 46.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Takayuki Fuchigami.)
Explanation needed on tax increase, fiscal resources
Eisaku Ide / Keio University Professor
Two factors can account for Maehara’s victory in the Democratic Party presidential election.
First, he rebutted the Abenomics economic policy package by saying: “It’s difficult to recreate the high economic growth of the past. Instead, let’s have a society that is no longer dependent on growth.” Consequently, he pledged to not evade debates on raising taxes and securing fiscal resources to realize this idea. This has won him widespread support.
Second, Maehara is a veteran of policy debates. In past presidential elections, including those for the former Democratic Party of Japan, ill-prepared candidates have competed for the leadership position. But Maehara presented his vision of an “all for all” society in last year’s presidential election and had been discussing the vision at the party meetings.
This “all for all” platform goes to the heart of the principle of public financing. In other words, in exchange for the public sharing the cost of a variety of needs of all the people, including childcare, education, medical care and nursing care, everyone is able to receive these services. By sharing the burdens people face, the platform aims for a society in which no one has to face these burdens alone. It’s a vision for a society where we can all depend on each other.
When the DPJ gained power, it implemented policies such as providing child-rearing allowances and free high school tuition in anticipation of such a society, but there was a significant gap between these policies and the party’s basic philosophy.
At the time, the DPJ philosophy called for reducing inequality and relief for the weak. The party meant some of the impoverished members of society when it referred to “the weak” and “those who are in need,” but in reality about 50 percent of all households have an annual income of less than ¥4 million. “Those who are in need” came to mean nearly half of the public.
Despite a serious revenue shortfall — its expenditure-cutting efforts such as budget screenings were far from sufficient — the DPJ-led administration came out with policies such as the provision of child-rearing allowances and the creation of a minimum guaranteed pension system.
The public could hardly feel a sense of receiving a benefit from the consumption tax rate hike in the integrated reform of the social security and taxation systems.
These policies were thoughtlessly carried out. The DP needs to begin with self-criticism.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proved with his Abenomics that even his loads of measures cannot regain the past growth. How the budget will be allocated will be a focal point in the future. Maehara should first tackle the issue of guaranteeing the livelihood of the people and securing the revenue sources to do so, as well as providing sincere explanation for the issue.The DP should not shy away from raising taxes. The debates on constitutional revision could even be entirely entrusted to Yukio Edano, who ran in the presidential election.
What worries me is that with the end of the leadership election, there will be renewed frustration over tax increases. The public will give up on the DP if the party falls into an internal struggle again. It is an important turning point for the DP as to whether it will be able to present to the public which direction it is heading for.
Maehara should not believe all of his party lawmakers have agreed on his “all for all” platform. He needs quite a high level of determination — shown by actions such as touring the country by himself and thoroughly explaining his ideas to the voters and the media to win their support.
An expert on fiscal sociology. Previously served as an associate professor at Yokohama National University. His books include “Juhassai Karano Kakusaron” (Inequality theory for 18 or older) and “Zaisei Kara Yomitoku Nihon Shakai” (Understanding Japanese society through public finance). He has been providing advice to Maehara on policies. He is 45.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Tatsuya Fukumoto.)