Japan opposition to merge as election talk swirls
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
"Japan opposition to merge as election talk swirls"
"What would they be called if the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party merge? Could it be 'Liberal-Democratic Party'?"
This was a sarcastic joke by a senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party sneering at the failed plan last year for the two parties to merge when the leader of the Democratic Party at the time, Mr Hatoyama, suddenly announced that the negotiation was under way for amalgamation. Sloppy planning and hasty announcement cost Mr Hatoyama his position as the leader, to be succeeded by Mr Kan, and talks along the lines of consolidation seemed to have ceased.
This time, they seem to be serious. At a joint press conference in the evening of 23rd, leaders of the two parties, Messrs Kan and Ozawa, declared that the two parties would unite in September. The technical procedure would be for the Democratic Party to absorb the members of the Liberal Party as it dissolves, forming a new, enlarged 'Democratic Party.'
As explained in the article, the merger this time was apparently motivated by the rumors of general election of the lower house to be held possibly by the end of the year. It is speculated that Prime Minister Koizumi, after winning the leadership of the ruling LDP in the intra-party election in September, would exercise his powers vested by the Constitution to dissolve the lower house in an attempt to fortify his position.
This scenario is considered by many as very probable, especially as popularity of Mr Koizumi, though it has been fading somewhat, is still overwhelmingly strong in relative terms. The merger of the two large opposition parties is an attempt to change that scenario, and taking into account the preparations needed for an election, announcement at this juncture was essential.
Nevertheless, this was not necessarily a good time for the opposition to make a move. One of the opposing parties, Social Democratic Party is currently under heavy attack by the critics and public, triggered by the recent arrest of a member resigned from the Diet last year for improper disposition of secretaries' salaries. Being one of the smaller groups represented in the Diet, there are talks of possible dissolution of the party. One option would have been for the SDP to join the merger scheme, but now they must get themselves back in shape before any plan for their future, if they have any, could be drafted.
It still remains to be seen whether the new Democratic Party could actually perform the way the two leaders envisage. The current Democratic Party is already split internally into several conflicting factions. Being a relatively new party themselves, members consist of those who have transferred from the conservative LDP as well as those from the liberal SDP. The Democratic Party has been notoriously unstable regarding their stance especially on major and important political issues. On the other hand, Mr Ozawa, the leader of the Liberal Party had been considered as a possible candidate for leading the ruling LDP when he was with the party. As such, Mr Ozawa and his colleagues will be in effect enforcing the conservative end of the new Democratic Party, which would inevitably arouse discontent among liberal end of the party.
If the plan goes well, however, it could function as a viable opposition to the ruling coalition dominated by LDP, which has stayed in power ever since the end of WWII except for a very short while. The new party could also function as a factor to correct the strange situation where the role of Prime Minister's opponent is played by the ruling party and the opposition parties seem to remain off stage.