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Friday, Dec. 28, 2012


DPJ's future on the line

Former trade and industry minister Mr. Banri Kaieda was elected Tuesday as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Japan. He arrives at the helm of the former ruling party at an extremely difficult time — following its crushing defeat in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.

Since the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its ally Komeito control more than two-thirds of the Lower House, it is imperative that Japan field an opposition party that is strong enough to serve as a countervailing force to the ruling coalition.

Mr. Kaieda faces the difficult task of reviving the DPJ. This means infusing it with an ideological and policy direction that is distinct from that of the LDP, strengthening its organization and promoting unity within the party.

There will be an Upper House election next summer. If the DPJ loses, it will cease to be a viable party. There's not much time for the DPJ and Mr. Kaieda. As he stated in a Chinese poem on Wednesday, he must "exert himself to the utmost" to strengthen the DPJ and win back people's support. In the August 2009 Lower House election, the DPJ had won 308 Lower House seats. The Dec. 16 election decimated the DPJ's strength to 57 seats — less than one-fourth its pre-election strength of 233 seats.

The DPJ's weak point is its lack of a party platform. Mr. Kaieda's most important task should be to construct a party platform that is appealing and convincing to people. In writing the party platform, the DPJ needs to clearly distinguish itself from the LDP's ideological and policy lines.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP has taken a hawkish stance on the Constitution and national security, calling for exercising the right to collective self-defense. The DPJ should strive to halt the LDP's excesses in these matters.

The Abe administration also favors maintaining nuclear power generation. The DPJ calls for ending nuclear power generation in the 2030s, but it must present a more convincing program for achieving this goal.

The LDP's stance on social welfare is clear: it wants to reduce livelihood assistance to the poor, the last resort in Japan's social safety net. The DPJ must present a practical and compassionate counterproposal.

Mr. Kaieda and other members of the DPJ should remember that its slogans "From concrete to humans" and "People's lives come first" in its 2009 Lower House election manifesto helped it to capture the hearts of voters, who swept the party into power.

As a first step to its revival, the DPJ should flesh out these ideas by presenting concrete programs. It must present itself as a party for social and economic equity and fraternity as opposed to the LDP's focus on self-help in its social policy. The DPJ should convince people that given the dire state of the economy, Japan's poorest need a helping hand to get back on their feet.

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