TOKYO • A new centre-left party pledging to bring "bottom up" democracy to Japan may prove the surprise success story of Sunday's election, although the party is forecast to win a mere sliver of seats compared with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc.
Mr Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition is on track to roughly match the two-thirds "super majority" it held in Parliament's Lower House before its dissolution, helped by divisions in the opposition camp and jitters over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, media forecasts say.
But the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) formed just this month could become the core of opposition to Mr Abe's LDP if, as some forecast, it challenges Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike's flashier conservative Party of Hope for the top opposition spot.
The CDPJ opposes Mr Abe's proposal to revise the post-war, pacifist Constitution to clarify the military's ambiguous status. Whether to revise the US-drafted Charter has long been a symbolic marker dividing Japan's left and right, and Mr Abe is expected to use his big win to push for amendments.
CDPJ founder Yukio Edano, 53, who grabbed the spotlight as Japan's top spokesman during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis, formed the party on the run after the main opposition Democratic Party's leader stunningly decided it would run no candidates and encouraged members to run on Ms Koike's slate.
Mr Edano told Japanese media he was inspired by the "Stand up, Edano" tweets he received after the Democrats imploded.
Many Democrats have jumped on the Hope bandwagon. Others either declined to join or were shut out after refusing to sign off on a hawkish security stance that echoes that of the LDP. Some have joined Mr Edano's party, others are running as independents.
A Sankei newspaper survey published on Tuesday predicted that the CDPJ would get between 46 and 60 seats, compared with initial estimates that about 30 of its 78 candidates would be elected.
That compared with 39 to 57 seats for the Party of Hope, which is running 235 candidates.
A Kyodo news agency survey released yesterday also forecast that the CDPJ could become the biggest opposition group.
If so, that would suggest voters unhappy with Mr Abe are seeking not a conservative replica of the LDP but a more liberal alternative, political analysts said.
The failed Democratic Party was a fractious mix of liberals and conservatives, saddled with an image of incompetence after a rocky 2009-2012 rule.
"Almost all parties have been conservative and there is no party for liberal voters to vote for," said Professor Yu Uchiyama of the University of Tokyo.
"If this party is successful in attracting liberal votes, there could be a prospect to do well."
Unlike the more authoritarian LDP, Mr Edano stresses commitment to individual civil rights, rather than obligations to the state, and wants to redistribute wealth to create a more equitable society.
"I want to take a first step towards creating a 'bottom up' society... towards a trend that is neither left, nor right, but moves forward," he had said during a debate this month.
A healthy showing by the CDPJ could lure more lawmakers to its ranks after the election, although low voter turnout could diminish its performance as could competition with the Japanese Communist Party on the left.
At a rally in Okinawa, Mr Shinjiro Koizumi, the LDP's rising star who is gunning for a fourth term as lawmaker for a ward in Kanagawa, conceded that the party's possible victory in this weekend's election hinges on a fractured opposition.
"Many reports have said that the LDP is on course for a big win, but even if this is so, it seems that this was because of a divided opposition that are cannibalising each other and not because the LDP has succeeded in completely recovering trust from you, the voter," said Mr Koizumi yesterday.