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The Party of Hopeless

SNA (Tokyo) — There is plenty of reason to believe that the Party of Hope, which is the second-largest opposition party in the House of Representatives, is not long for this world. However, it remains unclear at this moment where its collection of centrist and rightwing lawmakers will end up going.

The fundamental problems that the Party of Hope faces are that it has no common purpose and there’s no particular glue holding it together.

Most of its lawmakers survived last October’s general election because of their personal hold on their own single-member districts. The party adds almost nothing to its lawmakers’ electoral viability with its 1% national support rating.

Having been created as the national political vehicle for the ambitions of Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, it now looks like she’s either going to resign from the party or be asked to leave in the near future.

Koike and her lieutenant Masaru Wakasa truly bungled it last September. They had intended to create a solidly conservative political party with more than half of the lawmakers being female. But when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe surprised the political world with an early snap election, they allowed themselves to be tempted by Seiji Maehara’s stunning offer to dissolve the Democratic Party on their behalf, and they threw their carefully constructed plans out the window in order to seize what seemed like a golden opportunity.

It was only fool’s gold, as the historical record will attest.

Moreover, the events of the latter half of last year also lay bare Yuriko Koike’s fatal flaw as a party leader: her authoritarian temperament. In spite of her possessing an effective strategic mind, she doesn’t coordinate very well, even with her vassals.

But that still leaves the Party of Hope, now populated by a majority of lawmakers who scrambled into the organization from the Democratic Party in the run-up to last year’s general election. Although the price of party entry was supposed to be allegiance to Koike and Wakasa’s hardline views on security policy, the current Party of Hope has entirely reversed course now that the former Democratic Party lawmakers dominate the ranks. The handful of party lawmakers who were true believers in those rightwing causes are now, quite understandably, feeling betrayed. This isn’t what they had signed up for last September.

So what to do now? Carry on with a pointless and, yes, hopeless party? Not likely. Split the party relatively amicably between the larger group of moderates and the smaller group of rightwing true believers? Much more likely. Or even, as some have proposed, just dissolve the party completely and let each lawmaker make his or her own way into new forms of organization.

Despite the collapse on January 17 of the scheme to create a unified parliamentary caucus between the Party of Hope and the Democratic Party, it does seem almost inevitable that the centrist and moderate conservative lawmakers of the two parties will indeed end up together in the near future. That formation will likely even have the lawmaker numbers to topple the progressive Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan from its tenuous status as the leading opposition party in the Diet.

The hardline conservatives face the larger dilemma. If they strike out completely on their own, they are likely to find themselves in the political wilderness atop a very minor party. It will be the Kokoro Party 2.0, with even the Nakayama couple lurking there to make it seem like it ever was.

The opposition party to watch remains the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. If they continue their wise policy of keeping other opposition parties at arm’s length while building up their own organization and progressive identity, they will still face inconveniences in the next round or two of national elections, but if they walk the line, they have the real prospect to become a force to be reckoned with in the early 2020s.

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