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Number 1 Shimbun

Once More with Feeling... Yukio Edano, Leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party

ONCE MORE

WITH FEELING...

Yukio Edano, Leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party



02-1

 

DAVID McNEILL

 

Yukio Edano is imprinted on the minds of many Japanese for his role in the 2011 Tohoku disaster. For several harrowing weeks, Japan’s then Chief Cabinet Secretary was one of the nation’s most visible faces, appearing on TV daily in a rumpled boiler suit to reassure the public that his government had the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control.

The rest is history: in 2012, Edano’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) lost power to a rejuvenated Liberal Democratic Party, in large part due to the perception that Fukushima showed a government doing precisely what it said it wouldn’t do: lose control. The party shrank, split and dissolved into infighting between some of its biggest political egos. Now the DPJ is back for a second try. Call it Democrats Mark II.

Edano returned to the FCCJ at a PAC presser on September 23rd as newly elected leader of the center-left Constitutional Party of Japan (CPJ), following the merger of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party of the People. As if harking back to their glory days, some of the party’s 150 lawmakers wanted to revert to the party’s 2009 name.

Whatever they call themselves, Edano’s new crew face an uphill fight. The CPJ’s parliamentary strength is still dwarfed by the LDP and its allies, who have 450 seats. Once written off by some, the LDP, meanwhile, has juddered back to life. Before his recent departure as party leader and prime minister, Shinzo Abe led the LDP-led coalition to six straight election victories.


Outsider policies

Edano was keen to point out how much he and Yoshihide Suga, Abe’s successor, have in common. Both are “outsiders”, entering politics via the backdoor rather than the dynasties that spawned Abe and many others. Both are ex-chief cabinet secretaries: Edano during the 3.11 disaster and Suga during the coronavirus pandemic. As Edano put it, “The fact that we are now leaders competing for political power is a point I’d like to emphasize.”

But he was equally insistent on their differences. Where Suga led a pro-business party that had invested heavily in “neoliberalism,” a CPJ government would work for a fairer distribution of wealth and “protect the lives and livelihoods of people.” It would campaign to reduce the 10% consumption tax (doubled during the Abe era) to zero and instead tax corporations, “which are making huge profits”.

“From the time of the Nakasone administration (in the 1980s) through Koizumi and Abe there has been a stance of neoliberalism, of placing priority on competition and putting responsibility on the individual – the smaller the government, the fewer regulations, the better,” said Edano. “We are proposing a society where people will cooperate and support each other, and where the government will be proactive in helping people overcome risks and barriers.” Rebuilding lives amid the pandemic had become especially pressing, he said, given the “disparities and divisions that have widened within our society over the last 30 years”. Japan is the only country in the industrialized world where economic growth has stagnated, he pointed out. “We believe we can be a new choice for people.”

There was more: the CPJ would make Japan a world leader in renewable energy – while pulling “as quickly as possible” out of nuclear power. “Global warming is the highest priority for all of humanity for this century and into the future,” Edano said. Japan’s technology and skills meant “we should be domestically aiming for 100% renewable energy and utilize these technologies to share around the world.”

 

“Disparities and divisions that have widened
within our society over the last 30 years”.
Japan is the only country in the industrialized world
where economic growth has stagnated, he pointed out.
“We believe we can be a new choice for people.”

 


Prospects

It was inspiring stuff but will voters buy into Democrats Mark II? After all, Mark 1 seemed a bit shambolic. Before being derailed by the 2011 disaster, DPJ leader, Yukio Hatoyama had promised to slash Japan’s huge public works spending, transfer funding to welfare, health and education, tackle the nation’s powerful bureaucracy, and begun transforming Japan’s Cold- War alliance with Washington.

The party’s opponents said Hatoyama lacked the killer instinct needed for hand-to-hand political combat with the LDP, which had been in office for all but 10 months since 1955 - and so it proved. Hatoyama fell at the first hurdle – abandoning his pledge to move the American military base, Futenma, out of Okinawa. His party, in any case, always seemed ideologically conflicted, a motley crew of left and right united mainly by their distaste for LDP rule.

This time would be different, insisted Edano. “Anyone who is in the party has agreed to sign up to the party’s clear basic principles.” One of the problems with the DPJ was a lack of experience, which had led to disagreements within the party, he admitted. “Our new party is based on the lessons that have been learned from the past and we have strong confidence that we can move forward.”

As for Okinawa, Edano’s party would again seek to redress the issue that sank Hatoyama: the imbalance of US military forces on the tiny main island. Step 1 would be cancelling construction of Futenma’s “replacement” base off the fishing village of Henoko. “We place importance on the US-Japan alliance and wouldn’t try to railroad through any changes, yet it is possible to come up with a solution that includes the base not going ahead.”

“Even without the base it is possible to ensure there is sufficient presence of the US military in the region.”

First up, of course, there was the small matter of weakening the LDP’s grip on power, which means grappling with if not matching the party’s vast political network – and coming up with 233 CPJ candidates. “We cannot compete against this unless we grow own net- work,” admitted Edano. “I am hoping that by the time of the next general election, we will be recognised as a viable choice.”


David McNeill is co-chair of the FCCJ’s Professional Activities Committee and a professor at the Department of English Language, Communication and Cultures at Sacred Heart University in Tokyo. He was previously a correspondent for The Independent and The Economist newspapers and for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Published in: November 2020

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