Photo/IllutrationYukio Edano, second from left, and other executives of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan acknowledge supporters at a party convention on Sept. 30. (Satoru Iizuka)

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan marked its first anniversary Oct. 3 as a liberal splinter group of the now-disbanded Democratic Party.

Opposition forces have a crucial role to play in restoring vigor to the political scene. The tension that once existed has evaporated under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s political dominance, thereby dealing a blow to the nation's democratic health.

The CDP’s performance as the largest opposition party will be closely monitored and evaluated during the lead-up to the Upper House election scheduled for next summer.

In a recent party convention, CDP chief Yukio Edano vowed to transform his party into a serious challenger and viable alternative to the LDP, and “take power before long.”

But the party faces a grim reality. It is a small entity with less than 80 lawmakers as its members, or one-fifth of the strength of the LDP, which controls more than 400 Diet seats.

With the opposition sharply fragmented, there seems to be no realistic way to stop the ruling camp’s high-handed approach to Diet matters.

Despite a series of political scandals that dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the administration, including the ones involving Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution, voters remained deeply cynical about what the opposition parties can achieve.

In the latest Asahi Shimbun survey, the CDP was supported by only 5 percent of the respondents, down from the party’s peak approval rating of 17 percent. The CDP has local chapters in only 33 of the nation’s 47 prefectures.

The party is trying to reverse its declining political fortunes.

During the convention, dubbed “Rikken Fest,” party members held workshops to discuss key policy issues. One was a proposal to phase out nuclear power generation. The state of local politics was also a key issue, with calls for more input from supporters. These events were webcast live.

This is an undertaking that clearly reflects the party’s commitment to “grassroots democracy,” a slogan in its platform that basically means developing policies through dialogue with voters.

To stress its policy of valuing diversity, the party also pledged to ensure that women will constitute 40 percent or more of its candidates for the proportional representation seats of the Upper House and also field LGBT candidates for the election.

These policies and proposals could provide an effective antidote to the Abe administration’s political style, which has been marked by a reluctance to pay serious attention to dissenting voices and a preference for autocratic, top-down policy development and execution over careful and conscientious consensus building.

The CDP should also offer solid and robust policy proposals to ease the anxiety of each member of society.

At the party convention, Edano stressed the importance of laying out a convincing vision for the future of the nation. “The question is how we assess the current state of Japanese society and what kind of future we wish for,” he said. “We will be judged by our blueprint of the future (of Japan).”

The party should offer specific ideas to tackle the key long-term policy challenges that the Abe administration has been eschewing, such as how to ensure that the social security system remains financially sound.

In order to pose a serious challenge to the dominant ruling camp, the opposition parties need to cooperate in both the management of the Diet affairs and the development of election strategies.

Instead of competing for leadership within the opposition camp, they should figure out ways to turn their diverse agendas into political power.

As the leading opposition party, the CDP has a duty to act as a force of unity among rival groups.

As the dangers of Abe’s overwhelming political power show, the CDP needs to be an alternative to the LDP, to give a voice to voters critical of the political status quo.

The only path for the CDP to reach that goal is through steady and tenacious efforts to rebuild itself by defining its political identity, as indicated by such words as “grassroots” and “diversity.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2