--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28
EDITORIAL: Minshinto’s task is to become viable foe of 'sole winner' Abe
Minshinto (The Democratic Party), formed from the merger between the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party, was officially inaugurated at a party convention on March 27.
The new party’s first task is to try to close the gap between the ardor of its members and the cool indifference of the public at large.
Shiori Yamao, a 41-year-old Lower House member who made news headlines for confronting the Abe administration over the problem of children on waiting lists for child-care facilities, has been chosen to head the new party’s policy research committee. But since almost all party executives, including leader Katsuya Okada, have essentially retained their posts from their DPJ days, critics point out that the party name is the only thing that has changed.
The public’s chilly reaction is quite understandable.
After coming into power in 2009 to end decades of rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, the DPJ did nothing but repeatedly betray the hopes of voters who were looking forward to a new era in Japanese politics.
The DPJ proved itself incapable of living up to its campaign pledges. Its attempts at government led by politicians, rather than by bureaucrats, went nowhere. And the party eventually split over the controversial issue of a consumption tax hike.
The impression cannot be denied that the new Democratic Party did nothing more than welcome back to the fold some of the DPJ members who had broken away at that time.
While the DPJ languished after its fall from power, the Abe administration consolidated a “sole winner” political system by winning three national elections in a row, starting with the 2012 Lower House election that was called upon the dissolution of the chamber by then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Abe stresses that the LDP’s return to power has improved the economy, claiming there are 30 percent fewer bankruptcies on his watch than when the DPJ was at the helm.
But on the other hand, the public’s discontent continues to run deep over growing social disparities and other issues, including that of children who cannot enter child-care facilities.
And as evidenced by his decision to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense and enact a divisive national security legislation, Abe has been walking a precarious path that may well lead the nation astray from its Constitution.
What lies at the end of the path is constitutional revision, the sole purpose of which is to change the Constitution itself.
There are many frustrated voters who are apprehensive of the Abe administration’s style of politics but do not see any alternative. One indication of their frustration is that voter turnout languished just above 52 percent in the 2013 Upper House election as well as the 2014 Lower House poll.
At the inaugural party convention, Okada expressed “deep remorse” for the DPJ’s failure to live up to the people’s expectations while it was in power. On that note, his party must take the first step forward.
As the largest opposition party with 156 Diet members, can the Democratic Party become a formidable opponent of the “sole winner” Abe administration? The answer to this holds the key to whether Japanese politics will emerge from its lethargy.
“Liberty, coexistence and responsibility for the future” are the Democratic Party’s founding principles. The party promises to rectify disparities in education, employment and gender-related matters, and defend constitutionalism. The party is at least heading in the right direction.
But the only way in which it can regain the lost trust of the voting public is to commit itself to what every political party is tasked to undertake with patience, which is to heed the voice of each citizen and challenge the ruling party with concrete and persuasive policies.