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Rengo Obstructing Opposition Alliance

SNA (Tokyo) — The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) is the most significant organizational backer of the Democratic Party, providing important support to make the largest opposition party somewhat competitive with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Recently, however, Rengo has been causing considerable trouble for the Democratic Party.

For one thing, due to the history of the Japanese labor union movement overall, Rengo is a long-term enemy of the Japan Communist Party, which has its own competing National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren). The four-party electoral alliance that brings together the Democratic Party with the Japan Communist Party not only discomforts conservative politicians within the Democratic Party, but also Rengo.

These tensions broke into the open during this month’s Niigata gubernatorial election. Rengo’s local chapter of labor unions in Niigata supported restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant and so did not want to back the opposition anti-nuclear candidate, Ryuichi Yoneyama. This led to the odd situation in which the Japan Communist Party, Social Democratic Party, and Liberal Party backed Yoneyama; while the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, and Rengo backed Tamio Mori; and the Democratic Party was lamely unable to make any firm decision. Yoneyama won, which was a victory for the opposition parties in general, but a sort of defeat for the leading opposition Democratic Party and its backer Rengo.

Since that time, the three smaller parties of the four-party opposition alliance have been calling on Democratic Party leader Renho to get her house in order and to decide whether or not her party is really “all in” for this opposition alliance or not. Tadatomo Yoshida’s Social Democrats and Ichiro Ozawa’s Liberals now seem to have no problem at all working alongside the Japan Communist Party, and they are united in challenging the Democratic Party to get on board.

Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii even asked the Democratic Party publicly whether it preferred to be in command of itself and to join hands with the other three opposition parties, or else be whipped around by the tail by Rengo, making the party’s own decision-making process weak and indecisive?

Shii’s point is a fair one. Even acknowledging that Renho’s task of coordinating internal opinions is a difficult one, the four-party alliance is unlikely to inspire public confidence while the Democratic Party cannot decide whether it is really in or out. An important part of that discussion is whether or not the Democratic Party conservatives and Rengo — however strong their allergy to the Communists may be — have any viable political strategy that can compete with the notion moving forward with the four-party alliance on a tighter and firmer basis?

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