People

Ex-Cabinet official Edano stands up as opposition leader

Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano (with striped tie) greeting a supporter after he delivered a speech for his party's candidate in Tokyo on Oct 21. The one-month-old party fielded 78 candidates in the Oct 22 elections and wo
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano (with striped tie) greeting a supporter after he delivered a speech for his party's candidate in Tokyo on Oct 21. The one-month-old party fielded 78 candidates in the Oct 22 elections and won 55 seats, making CDP the country's largest opposition force.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Month-old party's chief is point man against Japan PM's bid to tweak pacifist Constitution

As Japan grappled with a nuclear crisis in March 2011, the blue overalls-clad Yukio Edano became the face of the government, appearing on television tirelessly to give updates.

The then Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government had such massive eyebags - from sleeping no more than two hours daily - that the hashtag #edano_nero (Edano, get some sleep) went viral.

Six years later, the man dubbed Japan's Jack Bauer - the character in TV crime drama 24 known for working indefatigably - is back in the limelight with the new viral hashtag #edano_tate (Edano, stand up).

People have rallied behind Mr Edano, 53, who left the DPJ - now the Democratic Party (DP) - to set up the centre-left Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) to contest the Oct 22 general election.

The biggest winners were not just the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition, which won more than two-thirds of the seats, but also the CDP, which has become the country's largest opposition force despite being less than a month old.

It fielded 78 candidates and won 55 seats in the general election last week, besting the more-fancied opposition party, the centre-right Kibo no To (Party of Hope), whose 235 candidates won 50 seats.

PREDICTED FUKUSHIMA DISASTER

While we amateurs took action based on that hypothesis, Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company), who are supposed to be the professionals, kept on saying that 'things are not yet clear'. It was us amateurs who were right.

MR YUKIO EDANO, on how the DPJ government assumed there would be a meltdown in Fukushima in 2011.

"We may still be a toddler, but we are taking a direction in line with your hopes," said Mr Edano, to the raucous cheers at a campaign rally.

The CDP's central plank is the Constitution, which the party promises to uphold in its strictest sense.

Mr Edano is vehemently opposed to any attempt to revise the Constitution if it involves a marked departure from Japan's exclusively defence-oriented stance.

And as the leader of the opposition party with the most seats, he is now the point man against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's public goal to tweak the pacifist supreme law.

The new flag bearer for Japan's liberal camp inherits his name and principles from the late Yukio Ozaki, a liberal politician idolised by his father, who set up his own factory after being retrenched.

Mr Ozaki, who served the Lower House from 1890 to 1953, opposed militarism and was one of the loudest voices for universal suffrage, which was granted in 1945.

Mr Edano, born in Tochigi prefecture to the north of Tokyo, graduated with a law degree from the University of Tohoku in Sendai, north-eastern Japan. In school, he was good in debate as well as singing. He was in the school choir and won a national singing competition in junior high school.

In 1993, at age 29, Mr Edano became a lawmaker after winning a seat in a district in Saitama prefecture, to the north of Tokyo, under the Japan New Party.

Among the other new faces then, incidentally, was Ms Yuriko Koike, who is now 65 and the Tokyo Governor and the chief of Kibo no To.

The Japan New Party soon disbanded, and in 1996, Mr Edano became a founding member of the DPJ, which won power in 2009 but was voted out in 2012 over its failure over the economy and its cover-up of the extent of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

That, Mr Edano suggested, was in part due to Japan's closed corporate governance structure abetted by decades of LDP rule. He has said that the DPJ felt the likelihood of a meltdown was very high in the early days of the crisis. "While we amateurs took action based on that hypothesis, Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company), who are supposed to be the professionals, kept on saying that 'things are not yet clear'. It was us amateurs who were right."

As the leader of the CDP, Mr Edano has promised "bottom-up democracy" with an emphasis on individual liberties instead of the LDP's "top-down" approach.

During the campaign, he attacked Mr Abe's trademark Abenomics policy for favouring the rich and the LDP's preference in continuing with the use of nuclear power - albeit with better safeguards.

Not only did the CDP come from nowhere to steal the thunder of the more fancied Kibo no To, but it also left the LDP in its wake - at least in terms of Twitter followers. By the latest count, the CDP had 192,000 followers to the LDP's 133,000 and Kibo's 13,600. The CDP had waged a battle for hearts and minds, posting clips showing Mr Edano in campaign rallies or engaging in friendly repartee with followers.

The party credited Mr Edano's underdog charm for its support.

A supporter Tweeted that Mr Edano's speech moved her mother to tears, leading the CDP to write on its Twitter account: "He may appear to be an uninspiring ojisan (middle-aged man), but he is our intellectual, courageous leader!"

Things may not have panned out this way had Mr Edano succeeded in his bid to become DP chief in an internal party vote on Sept 1. He lost to conservative former foreign minister Seiji Maehara.

The DP is now a spent force after a failed plan by Mr Maehara to have its candidates run for election under the banner of Kibo no To as Ms Koike vowed to "purge" liberal candidates who do not adhere to its conservative ideology.

Mr Maehara quit as party chief last Friday.

There were suggestions after the election that the CDP should merge with other parties, but Mr Edano has scoffed at such talk.

Instead, he said the CDP will go its own way and distance itself from the "numbers game in a power struggle in Nagatacho (Tokyo's political epicentre)".

And he has won unlikely praise, no less from the ultra-nationalist former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, who lauded him for "remaining true to what he believes in".

Unlike the "many candidates who ran away and became turncoats", Mr Ishihara said of Mr Edano: "He looks to me like a real man."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-Cabinet official Edano stands up as opposition leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe