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Japanese opposition split turns election into 3-way fight

Liberal and conservative opposition blocs could divide anti-establishment vote

Factions led by Democratic Party heavyweight Yukio Edano, left, and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, right, could split votes against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center, in the Oct. 22 lower house Diet election.

TOKYO -- Three major factions look to dominate Japan's upcoming general election after the main opposition Democratic Party split in two over the question of whether to team up with conservative Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new national party.

Yukio Edano, the Democrats' left-leaning deputy president, said Monday that he would lead a new Constitutional Democratic Party to attract liberal votes in the Oct. 22 race. The party will "protect constitutionalism, democracy, liberal society and citizens' livelihoods," Edano said, asking voters for "the power to put a stop to the excesses" of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.

Edano's new political party on Tuesday reported its establishment to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Election Administration Commission. Six former lower house members joined the party at the start.

But the maverick governor seems undaunted by her new rivals. Her Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, aims to field enough candidates to pursue at least the 233 seats needed for a majority in the lower house, Koike said Monday. Edano's announcement makes the battle lines "extremely clear," she said.

Right, left and right

Hope has an ally in Democratic Party chief Seiji Maehara, who aimed to have all Democratic lawmakers from the outgoing lower house run for re-election under Koike's party. The combined opposition force was envisioned building a majority on votes against the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner Komeito as well as opposition to the Japanese Communist Party.

But Koike intends to be more selective, refusing endorsements to Democrats who do not support enhanced national security and changes to Japan's pacifist constitution. This stance alienated some Democrats, particularly the party's more liberal members, driving a sizable contingent to the Constitutional Democrats. That party aims to field about 30 candidates, drawing from both veteran lawmakers and political newcomers, says a former Democrat who joined the group. Other Democrats look to mount independent campaigns.

Edano met Monday with Rikio Kozu, who leads the Japanese Trade Union Confederation -- or Rengo -- seeking the support of the country's top labor organization and the Democratic Party's largest backer. Akira Koike, head of the Japanese Communist Party secretariat, said his party wants to "cooperate extensively" with the Constitutional Democrats if that group plans to build on past efforts to forge a unified opposition.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, head of the Japan Innovation Party, said Monday that the election would ask voters to choose among "the ruling bloc, a group centered on the Communists and an alliance between Hope and Japan Innovation."

Fuzzy fault lines

The newly unified liberal bloc, depending on how many candidates it fields, could challenge Koike's plan to topple the Liberal Democratic Party's coalition. Dueling opposition forces could split the anti-LDP vote in certain single-seat constituencies, handing victory to the ruling bloc. Edano said in a television appearance Monday evening that the Constitutional Democrats will not field candidates for seats previously occupied by Democratic lawmakers who joined the Party of Hope. 

Policy questions such as how to continue Japan's Abenomics policies, whether to alter the constitution and how to address a consumption tax hike scheduled for October 2019 also will complicate matters. Abe favors raising the tax rate on schedule while altering the plan for spending the proceeds in order to devote money toward programs such as free education.


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