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Towards the New Centrist Formation

SNA (Tokyo) — The break-up of the Party of Hope is proceeding in slow motion. A few key dissenters on different sides have been gumming up the works. Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before most of the current lawmakers of the Party of Hope and the Democratic Party come together into a new centrist formation that will likely become the largest opposition block—at least temporarily.

Party of Hope Diet affairs chief Kenta Izumi recently stated openly that a new political party is being planned, probably signaling an end to the Democratic Party as well. The time frame for the emergence of this new party appears to be within a month or two.

Two individual lawmakers sum up the main obstacles to the proposed realignment: Goshi Hosono and Katsuya Okada.

The problem with Hosono is that he has nowhere to go after the break-up of the Party of Hope. Ideologically, he is conservative. His attention has lately been focused on Constitution revision, which he supports. This sets him apart from most of the other lawmakers in his party, who tend to be more suspicious of Constitution revision, especially under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Those characteristics would suggest that Hosono should join the half-dozen or so founding members of the Party of Hope who are looking to break off from the main group and federate with the conservative Japan Innovation Party. However, it appears that Hosono and Shigefumi Matsuzawa, the leader of that group, aren’t particularly close. Moreover, Hosono is still very much identified as a pillar of the former Democratic Party of Japan, having become a prominent Minister of the Environment in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

If the Matsuzawa group is not an attractive option for Hosono, a return to the Democratic Party fold is even worse. It was only about five months ago that Hosono burned his bridges with his former colleagues in a spectacular fashion. He was a key figure in the attempt to purge liberal lawmakers from the process of entering the briefly popular Party of Hope in the run-up to the October general elections. Those who were targeted by Hosono haven’t forgotten how he tried to slit their throats when he was in a position of momentary advantage.

Katsuya Okada is more-or-less the spokesman for those Democratic Party lawmakers who were near-victims of the purge. Understandably, perhaps, Okada is not eager to forgive and forget what occurred as recently as last September and October. Okada, too, has been pushing on the brakes regarding the formation of a new party.

Additionally, Okada seems to recognize more keenly than some the broader political reality that only the progressive Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is garnering a substantial degree of public support. He has been counseling a closer alignment with the party led by his former deputy, Yukio Edano.

At any rate, there is enough momentum, despite the likes of Hosono and Okada, that some kind of new centrist formation is coming soon. The question is how many lawmakers will join it, and what happens to the smaller splinters that opt not to join it.

The other question is whether this new, larger opposition party (under whatever name) can regain public trust and become a viable entity.

On that question we have a clear answer—almost certainly not.

Barring some radical development, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is the party of the future. Even if the new centrist formation strings together enough incumbent lawmakers to become the largest opposition force in the Diet, it will be Edano’s team that will drive the policy agenda and which will emerge the clear-cut winner among the opposition parties in the next national elections.

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