The Debate

Japan Needs an Opposition Alliance

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The Debate

Japan Needs an Opposition Alliance

Unchecked unconstitutional legislation is a repeat of Japan’s prewar history.

Japan Needs an Opposition Alliance
Credit: Japan anti-war protest via Chris McGinley /

The 189th ordinary Diet session ended on September 27. The Abe administration extended the Diet session by the longest period in Japan’s postwar history, and forced the enactment of security-related legislation by sheer weight of numbers. From now on, the government of the day will be able to totally ignore the basic philosophy of pacifism and international cooperation expressed in the preamble and Article 9 of the Constitution, and to take the arbitrary decision to dispatch the Self-Defense Force to any kind of conflict overseas.

When politicians ignore the public to pursue their own selfish ends they invariably use similar kinds of expressions to deceive the people. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has justified the security legislation by explaining that “We will rescue Japanese citizens living abroad” and “If mines are laid in the Strait of Hormuz, closing it to shipping, Japan will be placed in a situation where her existence is threatened.”
The self-same expressions were used in the pre-war Imperial General Headquarters Announcement, which stated: “We will protect the lives of Japanese citizens” and “Manchuria and Mongolia are the life-line of the Empire of Japan.” It was following these statements that Japan plunged into war. The Abe Cabinet is using exactly the same kind of expressions to deceive the Japanese people. If they succeed in having their way over the current unconstitutional legislation based on this mindset, then Japan may end up repeating its prewar history.
As the past and present history of both Japan and the wider world illustrates, control by a single dominant power destroys healthy political competition, creates a government indifferent to the opinions and wishes of the people, and ultimately leads to national despair. The Abe administration is taking this path once again, threatening the lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people.

A Credible Alternative

Democracy is a system designed to prevent these kinds of threats. In a parliamentary democracy, there is always the possibility of a change of government if the ruling party governs the nation in a way that is totally at odds with the promises it has made to the electorate. It is this tension that creates good governance. That is the merit of the single-seat constituency system, and the means of ensuring that democracy functions properly. However, in Japan no credible alternative to the LDP/Komeito coalition currently exists. To achieve a change of government, it is essential for the opposition parties to form an alliance.

Although the LDP won the 2014 general election, there was no increase in the actual number of votes they received. Moreover, the 2014 election saw the lowest voter turnout of the postwar period, down 7 percent from the turnout at the 2012 general election, itself a record low. I believe this low turnout reflects the fact that, while the electorate is dissatisfied with the LDP/Komeito coalition on a variety of fronts, they unfortunately feel there is no viable alternative.
In other words, the majority of the electorate would still like to see an administration that can properly rebuild Japan. I believe that they also feel strongly that the opposition parties must form an alliance in order to gain power. Whether we can realize a change of government or not is dependent on the quality of opposition cooperation.

A Change of Government

The main objective of an opposition realignment is to take power at the next general election. That is because it is impossible for political parties to fulfill their promises to the people without taking power. If this premise is ignored, our pledges will be nothing but empty words. Shifting political mergers and breakups that do not aim to take power are nothing more than political game-playing.

However, if the opposition parties are to take power, they will not be able to overcome the LDP under the single-seat constituency system if they fight elections by fielding separate candidates. That much is clear from looking at the results of recent national elections.

In the forthcoming House of Councillors election and general election the opposition parties must negotiate to field joint candidates in each electoral district, in order to engage in a one-to-one face-off with the LDP/Komeito.

In this sense, the Japanese Communist Party’s proposal to transform the electoral policy they have followed unswervingly during the postwar era and cooperate with the other opposition parties to establish a “National Coalition Government to Repeal the War (Security) Legislation” is a significant step toward opposition parties waging a joint campaign. We applaud the move.

So what is the best way to achieve an opposition alliance? It is to dissolve all the separate parties and merge them into one. However, this is not simple to do. So what is the best way to accomplish it? This question is the biggest issue that the opposition parties now face.

An ‘Olive Tree Alliance’

I believe that the opposition parties should fight the next House of Councillors election with a joint list of candidates, in other words forming an alliance similar to the Olive Tree coalition that won successive elections in Italy for over a decade from the mid 1990s. This concept differs fundamentally from the viewpoint that opposition cooperation amounts to only electoral cooperation and coordinating candidates. An Olive Tree alliance would require the creation of a single umbrella party for electoral purposes. Such a party would be a separate entity from existing political parties, and the candidates from each of those parties would participate in it as individuals.

Candidates would not be required to leave the party of which they are a member, nor would it be necessary to dissolve existing political parties. If electoral coordination has left an electoral district without a candidate from a particular opposition party, there is a tendency for that party’s supporters to vote for their own party in the proportional representation section of the vote, and so true opposition unity is not achieved. But under an Olive Tree alliance, the opposition would fight together in both individual districts and proportional representation districts, and a true pooling of strength would take place.

I think that the political banner under which such an opposition alliance should fight could involve agreement on a main policy or electoral issue such as “anti-LDP/Komeito” or “anti-security legislation.” There is no need for parties to engage in discussions to obtain agreement on the finer points of policy. In the Diet, if the party whip is not applied, individual Diet members from the same party are able to vote their conscience. In the same way, it is sufficient I believe for the opposition alliance to hold shared views on a number of issues that are of significance to the electorate.

If next year’s House of Councillors election is fought using this method, then the opposition should be able to win virtually all the single-seat districts. If we add in proportional representation seats we should be able to take a considerable number of seats. Should we succeed the LDP will no longer be able to ride roughshod over the opposition as they did during the last Diet session.

The key to realizing this opposition alliance is for individual Diet members to have an altruistic spirit, being prepared to suppress their selfish impulses or sacrifice themselves if necessary. If we can expand our alliance in this spirit we will be able to achieve something really meaningful. But if we continue to trumpet “Me, me,” then we will not be able to accomplish anything of note.

So what do I mean by something “meaningful”? Well, we should have a shared mission and sense of responsibility that: “We must achieve better politics for the sake of the people.” We should always be conscious of this goal and suppress our personal feelings for the sake of the cause. This is simply commonsense, but if we can succeed in sharing this vision we will definitely be able to realize an opposition alliance.

If the opposition parties approach the upcoming House of Councillors election campaign in this spirit of determination we should be able to demonstrate to the Japanese people that we are capable of taking power at the next general election. I believe that if the opposition parties can form a proper alliance at the next election we will soon achieve a change of government. Moreover, I am convinced that if we show we truly have the courage and conviction to work toward such a change of government, we will definitely be able to obtain the people’s trust and the way forward will become clear.

Ichiro Ozawa is a Japanese politician and president of the People’s Life Party & Taro Yamamoto and Friends.