The main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and the smaller opposition Japan Innovation Party plan to merge in March as part of efforts to better challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition in a House of Councillors election this summer, lawmakers of the two parties said Tuesday.
DPJ executives met and approved a plan to integrate the Innovation Party into the DPJ. DPJ leader Katsuya Okada said he aims to hold a convention in March to launch a new party, according to DPJ lawmakers.
Okada proposed the party have a new name, though veteran DPJ lawmakers have insisted on maintaining the DPJ’s name, the lawmakers said.
In a meeting of Innovation Party executives the same day, leader Yorihisa Matsuno suggested joining the DPJ to create a new party and said he aims to launch it in March.
“I would like to ask you to establish a new party with a new name,” Matsuno told the meeting, part of which was open to the media. “My proposal to create a new party, 100 or so members in size, is finally about to be realized.”
The two parties will discuss the merger issue when they each hold intraparty talks possibly on Wednesday. If both endorse the plan, Okada and Matsuno are expected to hold a meeting later this week and give the plan the official go-ahead.
The two parties plan to discuss the issue of the new party’s name in a panel they will set up to prepare for the planned merger.
The public, however, does not appear to have high expectations for such a new party. In a Kyodo News opinion poll conducted last weekend, 65.9 percent of respondents said the DPJ and the Innovation Party do not need to merge, while 20.9 percent backed the integration.
Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary general of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, criticized the planned merger between parties with different policies, calling it an unprincipled coalition simply for the sake of an election.
“Unless (the new party) has an identity outlining what it aims for, we have no choice but to say (the entity) is immature as a political party,” Tanigaki told reporters.
In a related move, the two parties and three other opposition parties agreed Tuesday to launch talks on forging a united front in a broader attempt to challenge the LDP and its coalition partner, the Komeito party.
In a meeting of secretaries general of the five parties, they affirmed coordination in fielding unified candidates in single-member electoral districts in the upper house election likely to be held in July, according to opposition lawmakers.
The DPJ, the Innovation Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Life Party agreed to make scrapping new security laws that expand the scope of operations of Japanese troops abroad a major campaign issue for the election, the lawmakers said.
The five parties will also consider possible cooperation in the next House of Representatives election amid speculation that Abe may dissolve the lower house for a snap general election to coincide with the upper house election.
At present, the LDP and Komeito control a majority of seats in the upper house and a two-thirds majority in the lower house.
Half of the 242 upper house seats come up for election every three years. Of the 121 seats up for grabs, 73 will be filled by winners in single- and multiple-member electoral districts while the remaining 48 are chosen under the nationwide party-list proportional representation system.
On Monday, JCP leader Kazuo Shii said his party plans to withdraw “a considerable number of its candidates” from the race for the single-member electoral districts on condition that unified candidates call for scrapping the new security laws.
The JCP and other critics argue the laws enabling Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense—or coming to the aid of the United States and other friendly nations under armed attack even if Japan itself is not attacked—would violate the Constitution.
Abe and other proponents say the legislation boosts Japan’s deterrence capability amid an increasingly tense security environment in the Asia-Pacific region such as China’s military buildup and rising territorial ambitions, as well as North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development.
In the Kyodo poll, 38.1 percent said the security laws should be scrapped and 47.0 percent said they should not.