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Postmortem chaos reigns at Japan's opposition parties

Reeling from election losses, Hope, Democrats struggle to find new leaders

Both the Party of Hope's Yuriko Koike, left, and the Democratic Party's Seiji Maehara are in the hot seat after a disappointing showing in the general election.

TOKYO -- Japan's two key opposition parties are struggling to fill leadership posts after a botched effort to form a united front in a general election that handed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a major victory.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's Party of Hope is going through postmortem finger-pointing and soul-searching. Koike accepted responsibility for the party's miserable election performance but vowed to stay on as party leader. And efforts to pick a Diet member as a co-chief went nowhere Friday.

At a meeting that day, the party decided not to select a co-chief to assist Koike and manage national policy matters until a separate leadership race next month. It did fill some of the other senior leadership roles, and picked Shu Watanabe, the party member with the most election wins under his belt, as the party's candidate for prime minister in a parliamentary vote to be held Wednesday.

"We spent a lot of time discussing a line-up that would best allow Hope to move forward," Koike said. "I hope we can move forward, united."

"Our priority is to have a full leadership race," she explained to reporters afterward on why the party will not pick a co-head at this time.

Party matters related to national policy, including choosing the leadership team, "will be entrusted to our Diet members," Koike said Wednesday. She had intended to assemble an interim leadership team ahead of the Diet session, with plans for a party election by the end of the year.

But members were deeply divided on who should get the top job. Some pushed for a fresh face as party co-head, while others backed veteran lawmakers. Even proposals for the interim team met with opposition. In the end, Koike was unable to get her members onto the same page. The lack of an agreement indicates that she may be losing clout and that the party may experience further issues with its own governance.

The Democratic Party, whose leader, Seiji Maehara, pursued a disastrous attempt to merge with Hope before the election, is facing difficulties as well. "I will step down once we determine our overall direction ahead of the extraordinary Diet session, as it is important we make a fresh start under new leadership," he told members on Friday.

Maehara also apologized for the bungled strategy that ultimately allowed the ruling coalition to retain its two-thirds majority in the lower house. He will offer a postmortem on the election at a Monday meeting with regional party leaders, and make his resignation official at a separate gathering that day. He will then officially join the Party of Hope.

There is a push to choose Maehara's successor before the Diet session. Some of those who ran as independents in the election are supporting former Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, but others both in the upper and lower houses are not convinced. It will be difficult to find a candidate that all members can get behind.

Maehara had initially envisioned a merger with Hope that also would include the upper house. But he has reversed his position, and will allow the Democratic Party and its regional branches to continue as is. He also announced that the party will hold on to its funds, said to exceed 10 billion yen ($87.8 million), instead of transferring them to the Party of Hope.

Maehara came under fire at the Friday meeting for his decision to join up with the Party of Hope in the first place. Some also assailed him for his previous comment that it was "expected" that the Democratic Party would end up splitting. He admitted that the remark was inappropriate, but said the party would have lost even if he had not suggested the merger.


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