Opposition party leaders looking to show their own colors

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a question-and-answer session at the parliament's lower house in Tokyo, Monday, Nov. 20, 2017. Abe was re-elected as prime minister after his ruling Liberal Democratic Party won a resounding victory in a snap election on Oct. 22. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – Three relatively new opposition party leaders will be looking to distinguish themselves from the pack during three days of interpellation at plenary sessions in both Diet chambers starting Monday.

The sessions come three days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a policy speech to both houses, and will be the first crossing of verbal swords in the Diet since Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano, Kibo no To (Party of Hope) leader Yuichiro Tamaki and Democratic Party leader Kohei Otsuka assumed the top posts of their respective parties.

All three leaders have emerged from splits in the Democratic Party, so attention likely will focus on how they clarify their differing positions during the interpellation.

Edano is preparing to spell out his confrontational approach to the prime minister. On Monday, Edano will ask questions about the “revolution” in human resources development, a signature policy of the Abe Cabinet.

During the recent election campaign, the Liberal Democratic Party pledged to make preschool education and nursery services free, but the main ruling party plans to cap public subsidies for this and make it income-based.

Edano will criticize this as “breaking the party’s commitment,” and hound Abe over this contradiction.

Edano also intends to trumpet his unyielding resistance to LDP-led discussions on constitutional revision, and his objection to spelling out the status of the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9 of the Constitution, an item Abe is eager to implement.

However, Edano is wary of being labeled an advocate of protecting the top law, and he reportedly plans to give the impression he is willing to take part in constitutional debates on “the right to know” and “restrictions on the cabinet power to dissolve the House of Representatives.”

Concrete proposals

Tamaki will concentrate on demonstrating his preference for a “realistic approach,” rather than simply lobbing criticism at the administration.

During Monday’s interpellation, Tamaki will weave concrete proposals for national security and social security policies with questions that “clearly show the party’s vision for the state and society.”

Security-related legislation was a major issue in October’s lower house election. Although Tamaki has stated he accepts the laws, he also wants to revise “parts that possibly violate the Constitution.”

He has indicated his willingness to engage in discussions on amending the top law, and plans to propose a “brake” be placed on exercising the nation’s right of self-defense, provided that right is stipulated in Article 9.

Policy wonk

Otsuka will ask his questions in the House of Councilors on Tuesday. Given his background at the Bank of Japan and reputation for being a policy wonk, Otsuka is likely to grill Abe over his Cabinet’s economic policies.

He will emphasize that the positive effects of Abenomics have yet to reach many small and midsize companies and regional areas, and press for these economic policies to be reviewed.

Otsuka takes a firmly careful stance when it comes to constitutional amendment. Differing views over the Constitution were a main factor behind the breakup of the Democratic Party and led to the creation of Kibo and the CDPJ. Otsuka’s position is based on the risk that hastily drawing a conclusion on this issue could prompt the DP’s remaining upper house lawmakers to also bolt from the party.

Out of sync on realignment

The three leaders’ views on opposition party realignment will also come under the spotlight. Edano is cool toward any such move and has said, “I haven’t even thought about it.”

He believes political parties simply resorting to new alliances will lose support from voters, who view it as an election tactic.

“Coordination of fielding candidates with other opposition parties in separate constituencies to avoid competition would be least acceptable,” Edano has said.

Tamaki also appears in no rush to realign the opposition bloc. “My top priority is strengthening the party’s foundation,” he said.

In contrast, Otsuka has referred to the CDPJ and Kibo as “friendly political parties” and has been trying a friendly approach with them.

He intends to set up a headquarters within the DP to study issues on which the three parties can work together, and is seeking ways to bring them back under the same flag.