TOKYO -- Yukio Edano, the leader of Japan's opposition Constitutional Democratic Party received an unexpected endorsement on Oct. 16, when Shintaro Ishihara, the firebrand right-wing former Tokyo governor tweeted that he was impressed by the 53-year old.
"This election is exposing the ugly personalities of many candidates," said the 85-year old Ishihara, whose credentials include trying to have the Tokyo municipal government purchase the Senkaku Islands as well as calling for Japan to have nuclear weapons. "Some fled from the enemy before the war, escaped to the opponent's side and betrayed their colleagues. Only Edano, who remained steadfast, looks like a real man."
That anecdote may represent best the reason why voters in Sunday's parliamentary election showed strong support for Edano and his nascent CDP. Originally part of the main opposition Democratic Party, Edano and his colleagues were barred from joining Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike's new Kibo no To, or Party of Hope, because she rejected them as "too liberal" -- a political error that critics say fatally undermined her claim to be Japan's dominant opposition figure.
Rather than sign a document promising to support amending the country's pacifist constitution and freezing a consumption tax hike to join Koike's party, Edano formed a new party to be a base for the country's liberal wing. Exit polls released after voting stations closed on Sunday suggest that the CDP may emerge as the country's biggest opposition party, ahead of Koike's movement.
"It is no longer a battle of ideologies between right and left. The real battle of the 21st century is between top-down and bottom up," Edano repeated in campaign speeches. "Making strong players stronger so that the benefits trickle down to the rest is the old way. Instead, we should make everybody's life better as a way to make the economy stronger."
Although he describes himself as "both a liberal and a conservative," his political views are acceptable to those on the far-left. When the Party of Hope decided to run a candidate in Edano's constituency in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, the Japanese Communist Party immediately canceled its own candidate so as to not take away votes from Edano.
Coincidentally, Edano kicked off his career in national politics side by side with Koike. Both ran as candidates of the Japan New Party in the 1993 lower house election and won their seats. Edano has held on to his ever since.
Edano was chief cabinet secretary, serving as the government's No. 2 and spokesman, under Prime Minister Naoto Kan in 2011. He was the face of the government's efforts to combat the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, natural disasters that triggered three meltdowns at a Fukushima Prefecture nuclear plant. His constant appearances on the podium, day in and day out, triggered the hashtag #edano_nero (Edano, go to sleep). Japan's Twittersphere was showing sympathy.
Six years on, Edano's political career is now about to enter a new phase, potentially as leader of Japan's opposition. Koike's decisions to bar left-leaning opposition members from joining her party and not to run herself as a candidate turned out to be grave miscalculations. Koike flew to Paris for to attend a conference on the eve of the election and apologized from the French capital as the Japanese results came in -- a far cry from the high standing she enjoyed at the start of the campaign. Edano's party, meanwhile, saw its star burning brighter as the election night wore on.