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Constitutional Democrats Make All the Right Moves

SNA (Tokyo) — The only two opposition political parties that are not currently chasing their own tails are the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party. Among these two, it is clearly the Constitutional Democrats who have more political potential in the immediate future, and pose the largest threat to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party—though probably not until the next decade.

In local newspapers across the country there are stories about the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan either setting up a prefectural chapter, being in the process of doing so, or considering the possibility. The Constitutional Democrats were born only last October, and they’ve been forced to establish a national infrastructure from scratch. The speed with which they are doing so is quite remarkable.

Party leader Yukio Edano has shown a tendency to simply discard some unwritten rules that don’t make sense for his organization. His refusal to play “the politics of numbers” and to respond to the desperate appeals for mergers from less progressive lawmakers is part of this tendency, but so is his decision to dispense with the standard weekly press conferences. Indeed, it was only this week that he finally held his first “regular” press conference, and apparently he intends to do so only about once a month.

Instead, he and the notably talented cadre of lawmakers he has gathered around him are setting aside tired Japanese political party conventions and focusing their efforts on creating a powerful political organization with real roots around the country.

This clear message is getting through to the rookie lawmakers as well. Shu Sakurai, a 47-year-old freshman elected on the party’s Kansai region proportional list, recently explained to his hometown newspaper in Kobe, “My party’s direction is to realize democracy from the grass roots, and so the enrichment of our regional chapters cannot be neglected. Though I’m our only national lawmaker from this prefecture [Hyogo], I want to listen to voices of the people as we craft our policies.”

It is not just words. Even while the Diet session is ongoing, Yukio Edano is touring the country, holding at least a dozen events explaining his party’s Zero Nuclear Basic Bill and rallying grassroots support to his banner. The Abe government is certainly not going to change its firmly pro-nuclear energy stance, but Edano and his team are developing legislation that both signals their progressive identity and could become the basis of national policies if the Constitutional Democrats lead a Japanese government in the future.

Progressive labor unions are beginning to respond. The All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union (about 810,000 members) has decided to offer political campaign support to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Additionally, the party has agreed to run a candidate in the 2019 House of Councillors election who hails directly from the General Federation of Private Railway Workers’ Unions (about 110,000 members).

Edano is not waiting for the divided and indecisive Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) executives to get off the fence. Instead, he’s gathering support directly from the confederation’s more progressive elements, perhaps forcing the labor union confederation to ultimately adopt more progressive stances than they would otherwise tend to embrace.

It should be added that this corrects one of the biggest errors made by Renho during her muddled year as leader of the Democratic Party. She allowed Rengo to veto her own attempt to adopt a stronger anti-nuclear policy that could appeal to ordinary voters in the post-Fukushima era. Instead, she allowed the Democratic Party to be held hostage by the pro-nuclear views of the Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Worker’s Unions. The Constitutional Democrats are not allowing this to happen to them, taking policy leadership into their own hands.

Finally, it’s impossible not to recognize that this three-month-old outfit is already the social media superpower among all Japanese political parties. Their main Twitter account, for example, now has more than 182,000 followers. That compares to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s 138,000 followers, which it has built up gradually since the account launched in July 2009. The savvy of the Constitutional Democrats’ internet outreach is awesome to behold.

Certainly, this party still has a long, long way to go before it truly threatens the dominance of Liberal Democratic Party. The many divisions among the opposition parties ensure that it will take years. But if there has ever been a fresh political organization that seems to have learned deeply from the mistakes of the past and is making all the right moves, this is the one.

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