The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan kicked off its presidential campaign Friday, with four candidates vying to reinvigorate the country’s largest opposition party following its poor showing in last month’s general election.
The candidates in the Nov. 30 election are Junya Ogawa, 50, former parliamentary vice internal affairs minister; Chinami Nishimura, 54, former state health minister; CDP policy chief Kenta Izumi, 47; and Seiji Osaka, 62, a special adviser to the prime minister when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) held power.
The party is coming off a disappointing showing in the Oct. 31 Lower House election, dropping from 110 seats to 96. Among those who lost their district seats were veteran party leaders Kiyomi Tsujimoto and Ichiro Ozawa. Ozawa returned as a proportional representative but Tsujimoto did not.
The scale of defeat forced the resignation of party President Yukio Edano, whose leadership came under fire after the CDP’s pre-election pact with the Japanese Communist Party to support unified district candidates created tension among CDP supporters and failed to produce results at the polls.
Whether or not to continue cooperating with the JCP is a major issue for the CDP’s next leader. While the CDP does not have formal factions like the Liberal Democratic Party, it has informal groups of politicians who belonged to a variety of former parties, and those groups have conflicting views on many subjects, including Edano’s move to cooperate with the JCP.
That agreement had been designed to prevent a split opposition vote in district elections but ended up turning off some voters. Expanding the party’s base to include more supporters, and deciding whether to attempt to attract more conservative voters who dislike the JCP, will be key to any new leader’s success.
The four candidates also face the task of rebuilding the party’s leadership ranks and giving it a new look at a time when more familiar faces have seen their standings within the party diminished.
At a Friday afternoon news conference, each outlined how they would lead if elected, and the issues they wanted to prioritize.
Osaka began by stressing his experience and the importance of dealing with a wide variety of diverse people as leader before touching on areas he wanted the party to reform.
“The area in Japan where we need to place the most emphasis is education, and investment in people. This is a necessary investment for now and in the future, as well as in art and culture,” Osaka said.
Osaka, the oldest candidate, is a five-term Lower House member from Hokkaido and a former party policy chief. He has emphasized the need to avoid a split opposition vote at election time, saying one-on-one contests for district seats was important. Osaka is affiliated with a 25-member CDP group, the party’s largest, centered around Edano and former Japan Socialist Party lawmakers.
Ogawa, for his part, criticized the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito governments of the past decade for polices that he said have increased state power at the expense of individuals.
“I want to rebuild the liberal stance of Japanese politics on freedom, human rights, and a fair and equal society,” Ogawa said.
Ogawa is also connected to the same party group as Osaka, though he had trouble securing the necessary 20 signatures of support to enter the race. He finally reached that threshold and is supported by a 10-member group centered on former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Izumi, meanwhile, criticized his own party for failing to offer policies that clearly distinguished them from the ruling coalition, and for becoming known among voters as a party that did nothing but oppose the LDP.
“Despite the fact that the CDP put forward a lot of bills, we ended up being thought of by the public as a party of nothing but critics of the government,” he said.
Izumi, who challenged Edano for the presidency last year, has said that when it comes to future cooperation with the JCP, the number of district seats and the local situation of each district had to be considered. He is supported by a group of 20 former members of the Democratic Party for the People who split from the party to join the CDP last year. The DPP heavily criticized the CDP’s decision to back unified candidates with the JCP.
Nishimura, who represents a district in Niigata, emphasized her regional roots as well as experience working for a nongovernmental organization.
“I’m confident that as a leader I can combine the voices of women, local voters from outside the big cities, and people involved in grassroots movements,” Nishimura said.
Nishimura is affiliated with a group of 15 members tied to Kan. She, too, faced difficulty in securing the minimum 20 signatures necessary to run, but said she wanted to run to put herself in a better position to help those facing difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic and to reduce social inequality.
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