By Takafumi Yamasaki and Erina Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersAn effective merger of the Democratic Party with the new political party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) was approved at a meeting of DP members from both chambers of the Diet on Thursday. Most of the recently incumbent DP lower house lawmakers are expected to seek to run in the upcoming House of Representatives election as candidates of Kibo no To.
However, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who leads the new party, intends to screen the candidates based on their views toward constitutional amendment, national security policy and other issues. Because the DP has effectively dissolved, the situation regarding electoral cooperation among opposition parties is taking on a new dimension.
Concerns aired immediately
The joint meeting also became a closed meeting soon after it started.
“I would like everyone to act together. To that end, I will make all-out efforts in negotiations with Kibo no To leader Koike,” DP President Seiji Maehara said repeatedly as he asked for understanding regarding the policy of letting recently incumbent lawmakers leave the DP and join Kibo no To.
Some people expressed concern, saying, “Kibo no To might be planning to field its own candidate in my constituency. Will you coordinate with them?” and, “Even if I join Kibo no To, will it be possible to continue cooperating with local assembly members I have been working with?”
A recently incumbent DP lawmaker of Hokkaido, where the DP has a strong support base, said, “In single-seat constituencies in Hokkaido, DP candidates could win in 10 constituencies and lose in two. I would like to contest the election as a DP candidate, if possible.”
The response of a group led by former lower house Vice Speaker Hirotaka Akamatsu drew attention at the closed meeting. The group, which comprises about 20 liberal members, including people who belonged to the now-defunct Social Democratic Party of Japan, was expected to not accept the idea of a “tolerant, reform-minded conservative party” stipulated in Kibo no To’s platform.
Akamatsu expressed dissatisfaction ahead of the closed meeting, saying: “Political parties should reach their decisions through discussion. Unfortunately, such a discussion has not been made.”
However, at the meeting that took place after the closed meeting, a proposal presented by Maehara was approved by acclamation.
“Because the snap election is just around the corner, Akamatsu and others might have judged that it will be difficult to swim against a strong current,” a DP official said.
Not all can run
On the surface, the DP could still smoothly unite with Kibo no To. But there is no guarantee that all would-be DP candidates will be able to run as Kibo no To candidates.
Koike has expressed intent to screen would-be candidates by carefully examining their views on the Constitution, security-related legislation and other issues based on the policies of Kibo no To. At a press conference on Thursday, Koike expressed concern, saying, “Not a few DP members want to abolish security-related legislation.”
There is speculation within the DP that Kibo no To is narrowing down a selection based on Koike’s “logic of exclusion,” according to a young DP member.
Goshi Hosono, a former environment minister who defected from the DP to become one of the founding members of Kibo no To, said to reporters on Thursday, “I have many friends in the DP, but we cannot make a decision merely based on compassion.”
Some liberals in the DP, including members of Akamatsu’s group, are likely to pursue running as independents if they fail to join Kibo no To.
Ahead of the decision to effectively merge, the DP leadership considered a plan to allow DP candidates to receive official endorsement from Kibo no To while keeping DP membership. That plan was scrapped due to opposition from Kibo no To.
Koike and others are cautious about the DP’s influence getting stronger because they want to avoid being criticized as a party made up of members with different policies and political orientations. If they were to accept the recently incumbent DP lawmakers without screening them, criticism from other parties that the new party is “a shelter for the ‘second DP’” will become more convincing.