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The Painful Birth of the Unity Party

Formation Sign

Unity Party announces its formation on December 18, 2013 (SNA)

SNA (Tokyo) — Rarely has a political party been created that so looks forward to its own destruction. More commonly the birth of a new political party is attended by hopes that one day, with hard work and perseverance, it may capture a majority and govern the nation. But in the case of the Unity Party, inaugural leader Kenji Eda has made it surprising clear that he expects his new party to have long met its demise even before its first general election. For Eda’s embittered former boss, Yoshimi Watanabe, even that is too lofty an ambition to countenance — Watanabe is determined that the Unity Party be stillborn.

On the part of Kenji Eda and his fourteen associates, the reasons for their curiously unenthusiastic attitude towards the party that they have just created are clear enough. Fundamentally, they hold out no hope that the Unity Party could ever start from where it is now and eventually build up its own parliamentary majority. Instead, they are explicit in their belief that a number of the current opposition parties must be welded together into a much larger organization encompassing perhaps a hundred incumbent lawmakers or more. Only with that kind of weight, they believe, can the opposition hope to trade blows with the Liberal Democratic Party in advance of the anticipated July 2016 double elections.

To that end, the Unity Party is already in talks with the Osaka wing of the Japan Restoration Party and the Tax Cut Japan movement of Nagoya with an eye to creating a new — but probably still intermediate — political party.

Tax Cut Japan has already lost viability and should present few obstacles to any unification scheme.

The linkage between the Unity Party and the Japan Restoration Party, however, is decidedly more delicate. This can be perceived by the never-subtle reaction of Japan Restoration Party co-leader Shintaro Ishihara, who responded to news of the talks by denouncing the Unity Party as an organization supportive of the current pacifist constitution, and thus of no interest to him. The way matters seem to be developing is that the merger of the Unity Party and the Osaka and former Democratic Party of Japan groups within the Japan Restoration Party may also be attended by the splitting off of the former Sunrise Party group, which may then, in turn, attempt to join hands with Prime Minister Abe.

At any rate, the notion seems to be that the new, larger opposition party that might bring together the Unity Party, Tax Cut Japan, and most of the Japan Restoration Party, would, as its next step, attempt to split the Democratic Party of Japan by luring out of it likeminded lawmakers, beginning with Goshi Hosono, and into what would then be the single largest opposition force.

The part of the Democratic Party of Japan that would likely not be welcome in the new, moderate conservative opposition party are those with ties to Rengo and the labor union movement. Presumably that left-leaning rump would then be sent packing to forge whatever alliance it could with the tiny Social Democratic Party and perhaps the People’s Life Party.

This seems to be the vision of the future political realignment that has taken shape in the minds of Kenji Eda and his colleagues, but even they realize that it could easily founder at each step along the way.

The most immediate challenge for the Unity Party, however, is simply to escape the clutches of the vindictive Yoshimi Watanabe.

According to the established practice of the Diet, when lawmakers leave a parliamentary caucus, this fact is reported by the head of that caucus to the parliamentary committee which oversees Diet operations. However, Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe has been stubbornly refusing to do so. Instead, he argues that since thirteen of the Unity Party lawmakers were elected by proportional representation on the Your Party list, what they must do instead is to resign from the Diet and allow him to replace them with some presumably loyal lawmakers who fell short of gaining seats in the last elections.

On January 10th both sides presented their cases to the parliamentary committee that oversees Diet operations. Koichi Yamauchi argued the case of his boss, Yoshimi Watanabe. On the other side was Mitsunari Hatanaka, one of the Unity Party lawmakers whose seat is at stake. Hatanaka argued that the usual rule should be waived as the Constitution itself guarantees that lawmakers may form whatever political associations they prefer.

Despite support from the Japan Restoration Party member, the parliamentary committee that oversees Diet operations failed to come to a conclusion and instead sent everybody back home with the instructions to go work it out among themselves.

It is expected, however, that some decision must be made by the time the Diet opens for its regular session on January 24th. But it’s not difficult to guess that, even should he finally relent on allowing the lawmakers to depart to the Unity Party, Yoshimi Watanabe has no intention whatsoever of giving up even a single yen of the public funding that goes along with the Diet seats in question.

The Unity Party will no doubt be born, but it will be a painful birth and one attended by a highly limited life expectancy.

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