Just when the Democratic Party was poised to take its first step toward rebirth, Seiji Maehara, the new president, stumbled big-time on personnel selections for party executive posts.

Having initially picked Shiori Yamao, former policy board chief of the party, for secretary-general, Maehara replaced her with his confidant, Atsushi Oshima, a former senior vice minister of public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications.

Maehara’s change of mind was apparently triggered by Yamao’s alleged liaison with a male friend, about which she had been interviewed by a weekly magazine.

No details have been confirmed about the allegation. But Maehara still has great responsibility for his own misstep in the much-touted selection of Yamao for the key party post and causing commotion within the Democratic Party at this most important time.

We can fully appreciate Maehara’s reasons for choosing Yamao for the post. She proved herself a formidable force in challenging the Shinzo Abe administration, particularly on problems concerning the shortage of day-care facilities for small children of working parents.

At age 43, she is serving her second term in the Lower House and is regarded as a next-generation party leader. And within and outside the party, many people pinned their hopes on her as a “symbol” of social renovation and diversity.

What must be questioned is Maehara’s poor judgment, specifically his failure to properly vet his intended candidate for the key post. He must reflect seriously on his shortcoming as the leader of the party that is at a crossroads.

The retraction of Yamao’s appointment was inevitable.

Still, one troubling thing is the way party lawmakers who support Maehara openly opposed, and were even hostile, to the appointment, citing Yamao’s inexperience.

Why can’t the Democratic Party gain more support? The major disappointment it caused the public during its Democratic Party of Japan years is not the only reason.

Even after the party fell from power, members did not support the leaders they themselves had elected, replacing them practically every year.

Back-stabbing was rampant, and the party simply lacked cohesion. Will the party ever truly understand that this is the reason why it has lost the public’s trust?

All Democratic Party legislators should ask themselves anew: What was the purpose of the latest leadership election?

Only the presence of a strong opposition party, capable of replacing the party in power, can enliven politics and make it reflect the public’s diverse wishes.

And under Maehara, was it not the Democratic Party’s intent to face its “last chance” at becoming the people’s “top choice” as the party to challenge and perhaps unseat the Abe administration, which has begun to fray at the seams after remaining in power for too long?

An extraordinary Diet session will convene later this month, and three Lower House by-elections are slated for Oct. 22. The Democratic Party has no time to waste before it starts verbal battles in the Diet against the Abe administration.

The party is at least demonstrating its resolve to unite and face the coming challenge by appointing Yukio Edano, who lost to Maehara in the leadership election, as deputy president.

Maehara’s latest misstep may diminish his influence. The party must realize that it will be on the verge of collapse if it cannot form a united front. It is in urgent need of making a fresh start.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6