New opposition party launched in Japan

Two parties merge to form new bloc amid talk of rare double election

TOKYO • Two Japanese opposition parties merged yesterday to form a new grouping intended to put pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative ruling party before the Upper House election this summer.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the main opposition party, and the smaller Japan Innovation Party merged to create the Minshinto party or the Democratic Party, which will have a total of 156 lawmakers in the upper and lower chambers, reported Kyodo News.

This makes it the largest opposition party since the start of the Abe government in December 2012 following a Lower House election that pushed the DPJ out of government and brought Mr Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) back to power.

The LDP controls a majority of the Upper House and more than two-thirds of the Lower House.

In 2009, the DPJ - a broad centre-left grouping - ousted the LDP after more than half a century of conservative dominance in a historic election landslide. But after coming to power, the DPJ limped along under unpopular prime ministers and lost public support, with Mr Abe's LDP regaining power in 2012.

"We must realise that this will be our last chance for a change in the regime," said Mr Katsuya Okada, a former foreign minister who leads the new party, in comments reported by Agence France-Presse.

Speculation is mounting in Japan that Mr Abe will combine a mandated Upper House vote with a poll for the Lower House.

Speculation is mounting in Japan that Mr Abe will combine a mandated Upper House vote with a poll for the Lower House.

Mr Abe does not have to hold a general election until late 2018, but could choose to renew his mandate sooner to take advantage of relatively strong voter support and a fractured opposition. The election in the less powerful upper chamber will likely be held in July.

"Simultaneous elections for the Upper and Lower Houses are not out of the question," said Mr Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the ruling LDP's general council, earlier this month.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, too, has hinted at the possibility of a rare double Diet election in July, reported local media.

In comments reported by Jiji Press, he said in a radio programme recorded on March 16: "If the prime minister makes the decision, Komeito has no choice but to accept it." Komeito is a coalition partner of LDP.

In the run-up to the Upper House election, the shortage of daycare places for children has emerged as a major issue, according to Japanese media. The long-festering issue burst into public consciousness last month after an anonymous blog post by a woman went viral, setting off protests and petition drives calling for change.

The writer complained in the blog post that she may have to quit her job after her child was denied a place in a daycare centre.

"My child didn't get into daycare," she wrote. "Die, Japan!"

Mr Abe initially dismissed the blog post, but public anger and media coverage prompted him to promise to address the problem with greater urgency, said Reuters.

The government and the LDP-led ruling coalition plan to compile by this week a package of emergency steps aimed at tackling the long waiting lists.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'New opposition party launched in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe