Minshuto leader Hatayama
with posters of former
party leader Ozawa
The Democratic Part of Japan (DPJ, Minshuto) is the main opposition party in Japan. A left-center party with 260,000 party members, it had traditionally been pretty weak but raised its stature by doing well in the 2003 lower house and 2007 upper house elections. Its main objective is to break the bureaucracy's hold on power and improve the economy by making reforms and has promised to slash public works spending by at least 30 percent.

The DJP was formed by the politician Naoto Kan and came into being in April 1998 when four political parties: 1) the previous DPJ, 2) the Good Governance Party (Minseito), 3) the Fraternity Party (Shunto-Yuai) and 4) the Democratic Reform Party (Minshu-Kaikaku Rengo) merged. In September 2003, the Liberal Party (Jiyuto), headed by Ichiro Ozawa, joined the DPJ. Rengo, Japan’s largest labor organization, is one of the DPJ’s biggest supporters.

The DPJ started with 131 lawmakers (98 in the lower houses and 38 in the upper houses) and steadily gained strength in each election until 2005 when it suffered a crushing defeat. In April 2005, Ozawa became leader of the party. He helped unify the party and led the DPJ to a victory in the upper house in 2007.

The DPJ is a hodgepodge of different groups: moderates, former Socialists, and conservatives. There are fears that any controversial move might cause the party to fracture. The DPJ’s main mission, it often seems, is thwarting the LDP at every turn in hopes of forcing an election to increase its seats.

The DPJ celebrated its 10th anniversary in April 2008. It has come a long way, gaining control of the upper house, but is still characterized by disunity among its disparate groups and lacking a clear agenda and direction other than stirring up trouble for the LDP.

In the months after the 2009 election victory, despite fund-raising scandals, the Democrats still seem to brim with enthusiasm for their agenda of change, Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, evident in their bustling, overcrowded offices on a few floors of a building with a Pentax sign on top.

How the Democratic Party of Japan Chooses Its Leader

In article describing how Japan’s two main political parties chose their leaders in September 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “In the Democratic Party of Japan leadership election, ballots cast by Diet members, candidates endorsed to run in national elections, local assembly members, rank-and-file party members, and registered supporters are converted into points. The points total 1,231, so a candidate who garners more than half the points, or 616, will win. A total of 336 DPJ Diet members have voting rights. A Diet member's ballot is counted as two points, so they have a total of 672 points. The nine endorsed candidates have one point each, while the ballots of local assembly members are converted into 141 points. The 326,974 rank-and-file members and registered supporters have a total of 409 points. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 19, 2012]

Local assembly members, rank-and-file members and supporters cast ballots by mail. The assembly members' ballots are counted on a nationwide basis, and those of rank-and-file members and the supporters are counted in each prefecture. Candidates are allocated points based on ballots which they garner under the D'Hondt method. Under this method, each candidate's total number of ballots is divided by one, two, three and succeeding integer numbers. The one with the largest quotient at each turn receives a point.

For this full-scale election, the third since the party was formed, the points given to local assembly members has been raised from 100 in the 2010 election to 141, while the points rank-and-file members receive have been boosted from 300 to 409. The number of points from the ballots of rank-and-file members and the supporters in each prefecture is allocated based on the number of electoral districts and party branches for proportional representation of both chambers of the Diet. Tokyo has the most points at 40 and Shimane Prefecture has the fewest with two.

If no candidate wins a majority of the ballots, a runoff will be held for the top two candidates. In a runoff, only Diet members with two ballots each and endorsed national election candidates with one ballot each will vote. Rank-and-file members and registered supporters only vote in party presidential elections when the party president's term expires.

Full-scale elections have been held only twice in the past, in September 2002 and September 2010. Party presidents have been reelected uncontested four times on other occasions. In the 2002 election, four candidates--then President Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, Noda and Takahiro Yokomichi--vied in the race. Hatoyama won a third term as party president in a runoff against Kan. Diet members supported Hatoyama after the incumbent garnered the largest number of ballots from rank-and-file members and supporters. In the 2010 election, Kan, who was then party president, and Ichiro Ozawa, a former president, faced off. Kan prevailed as rank-and-file members and supporters voted overwhelmingly for him. In a presidential election in August 2011, in which only Diet members cast ballots, five candidates--a record number--ran. Noda won the second-largest number of votes in the first round, but defeated Banri Kaieda in a runoff.

The DPJ's bylaws define rank-and-file members as "people who agree with the party's basic ideals and policies," and supporters as "people who support the party or the party's candidates." Men and women aged 18 or older can become members or supporters. Members and supporters are registered as of the end of May every year. Rank-and-filers have to pay a 6,000 yen annual membership fee and supporters 2,000 yen. Rank-and-filers receive the DPJ's newsletter twice a month, but the value of their ballots in the party's leadership election is the same as those for supporters.

In the DPJ leadership election in September 2010, rank-and-file members and supporters who were foreign residents were allowed to cast ballots. At the party convention in January, however, the DPJ's bylaws were revised so only Japanese nationals are allowed to be rank-and-file members. Though non-Japanese are allowed to register as supporters, they are not given voting rights in party presidential elections. As the DPJ is the ruling party, the person who becomes president also becomes prime minister. DPJ executives decided to strip foreigners of voting rights in the face of criticism that non-Japanese cannot vote in Japanese elections. The revision of the bylaws also changed the party president's term from two years to three. This change went into effect in the 2012 election.

Leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan

The DPJ leaders are selected through a vote by party members at during a general assembly of DPJ Diet members in both the lower and upper houses. The DPJ president is selected for a two-year term through a party election and vote by legislators, rank-and-file members and supporters and local assembly members. As of 2010, there were about 350,000 rank-and-file members and supporters — including foreigners residing in Japan — that pay annuals fees of ¥6,000 and ¥2,000.

In the voting in September 2010, 1,222 points were up for grabs. Each vote by the DPJ’s 411 Diet Members was worth two points, accounting for about 70 percent of the vote. About 2,400 DPJ local assembly members were allotted 100 points while 340,000 non-lawmaker DPJ members and supporters accounted for 300 points. The vote was the first DPJ election since 2002 in which rank-and-file DPJ members and supporters cast ballots. Among the members allowed to vote were “foreigner residents living in Japan.”

Yukio Hatoyama was selected as the first DPJ president after the DPJ was created. In December 2002, Hatoyama resigned as DPJ president over chaos that followed the merger of the two parties.

Naoto Kan was named leader of Minshuto in December 2002. He resigned in 2004 because his failure to make pension payments,

After Kan resigned in 2004, Katsuya Okada was named the President of Minshuto. Okada was 50 at the time. He graduated from Tokyo University in 1976 and entered the the former International Trade and Industry Ministry the same year. He was first elected t the lower house as a member of the LDP from Mie District in 1990. He left the LDP in 1993

In April 2006, 63-year-old Ichiro Ozawa became the DJP leader after easily defeating Kan in a party poll 119-72. Ozawa had been the leaders of othe parties: the Japan Renewal Party, the New Frontier Party and the Liberal Party. Ozawa named Kan as his deputy president. Ozawa was initially seen as the first choice in 2004 but he too failed to make some pension payments. Ozawa reelected as DPJ head in September 2008

Democratic Party of Japan in Elections in 2003, 2005 and 2007

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In the November 2003 elections, Minshuto did surprisingly well. It increased its number of seats in parliament from 137 to 177 (a gain of 40 seats) while the LDP decreased its number of seats from 247 to 237 (a loss of 10 seats). The election made Minshuto into a political power to be reckoned with and effectively gave Japan a two party system.

In elections in September 2005, the opposition won only 134 seats — 113 for the DPJ (down from 177 before the election).

In late July 2007, the LDP suffered a devastating defeat in the upper house elections. It won only 37 of the 121 contested seats and was left with a total of 83, far less than the 109 it held before the election. There are a total of 242 seats in the upper house, The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won 60 seats, raising its total to 109 seats, compared to 83 it held before, making it the largest party in the upper house for the first time. It was also the first in LDP history that it didn’t have a majority in the upper house, even with its coalition partner New Komeito.

The DPJ’s campaign strategy had been to woo rural voters who had traditionally been supported by the LDP with public works projects but had lost these projects under Koizumi. The strategy was a success: the LDP won 23 of 29 rural districts that were contested. Resentment over the pension fiasco also gave the DPJ a lift.

It was arguably the worst defeat suffered by the LDP since its stranglehold on power began in 1955. Seats in rural areas that were regarded as LDP shoo-ins fell, including that of the LDP’s No.2 in the upper house.

The victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) effectively gave Japan a two-house legislature. It was the first time that the LDP failed to control both houses. The lower house remained dominated by the LDP and its allies.

DPJ Problems

Many analysts and politicians say that the DPJ suffers from the the same weaknesses as the Liberal Democrats. “The Democratic Party has the same problem as the Liberal Democratic Party, in that both are broad tents filled with politicians of all ideological stripes,”Takeshi Sasaki, a professor of politics at Gakushuin University in Tokyo, told the New York Times. “So long as Japan lacks modern political parties, it will lack true political competition.” [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 24, 2010]

It didn’t take long for the euphoria after the August 2009 election victory to internal divisions over policy and even over the manifesto that party promoted in the elections. There have been disagreements over complex issues like whether to raise taxes or cut social programs to rein in the budget deficits and how to continue or changes Japan’s relationship with he United States. “After the breakup of the Liberal Democrats, it will be the Democrats’ turn to fight internally and split,” Kotaro Tamura, a Liberal Democratic lawmaker who left in December to join the incumbent Democrats. “That will be a big moment for Japanese democracy.”

Kaieda Elected New DPJ President

On Christmas Day 2012, about a week and half after the Democratic Party of Japan, was crushed in the lower house election, former trade minister Banri Kaieda was elected president of the party. Kaieda replaced Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who resigned as DPJ chief immediately after the election. The DPJ lost around 75 percent of its pre-election strength in the Lower House in the election. “A selfless spirit is important in politics,” Kaieda, 63, said in a speech delivered before DPJ presidential election. “We cannot let the DPJ disappear from Japan. I want to rebuild the party.” [Source: Asahi Shimbun, December 25, 2012]

The Asahi Shimbun reported: “Kaieda gained 90 votes from the DPJ Diet members to defeat Sumio Mabuchi, 52, a former transport minister, who received 54 votes. Goshi Hosono, chairman of the DPJ’s Policy Research Committee who is considered a likely future party president, supported Kaieda’s candidacy. Kaeida said he will toughen up the party now that it is back in the opposition camp.

The DPJ swept into power in 2009 on promises to change the way Japan operates. It vowed to take power away from bureaucrats, cut spending, and make life easier for ordinary Japanese citizens. But the party failed to live up to its promise of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside of Okinawa Prefecture. Other promises were then broken, and spats escalated into full-blown feuds between party members over policy. The DPJ also came under heavy criticism over its handling of the Fukushima nuclear accident and Japan’s soured relations with China.

The party’s election showed that the internal bickering has not disappeared. Many party members who backed Kaieda said they were tired of the mainstream DPJ members who had shuffled key Cabinet and party posts among themselves under the administrations of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Noda. They were particularly critical of Katsuya Okada, who pushed for a consumption tax hike as an adviser to Noda and led the DPJ’s campaign for the Dec. 16 Lower House election. When Okada’s name was mentioned as a possible president by the mainstream politicians, opposition spread swiftly in the party. Opponents called Okada and other senior DPJ officials “war criminals” responsible for the party’s disastrous showing in the Lower House election. “The candidates should be anyone but those war criminals, and members endorsed by the war criminals are out of the question,” a DPJ lawmaker said.

Kaieda led after the first round of voting in the DPJ presidential election in August 2011. But he lost to Noda in a runoff mainly because he was seen as a puppet of former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, who later left the party in opposition to Noda’s plan to raise the consumption tax. Kaieda voted in favor of the tax hike legislation in the Lower House in June. And he stressed he would stick to the accord reached between the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax bills in the Diet.

Opponents of Kaieda also said that being elected in a single-seat constituency should be a minimum requirement for a party president. Kaieda lost in the race in the Tokyo No. 1 single-seat constituency, but he retained a spot in the Lower House in the proportional representation district. Kaieda, an economic commentator, was elected to the Lower House for the first time in 1993 on the Japan New Party ticket. Three years later, he became one of the founding members of the DPJ. In response, Kaieda told a news conference that he felt qualified because he lost by only a slim margin. He was named industry minister under the Kan administration. But due to a lack of communication with Kan on restarting nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster, Kaieda broke down and cried after being criticized and questioned vigorously during a Diet debate.

Okada Becomes Leader of Japan’s Main Opposition Party

In January 2015, Katsuya Okada was elected president of the Democratic Party of Japan following a close runoff against the younger Goshi Hosono after a weeklong campaign, The Japan Times reported: “Okada, 61, headed the party between 2004 and 2005 and served as secretary-general several times. But questions remain over whether the veteran can pull the largest opposition force together and regain the public’s trust. Okada, backed by the DPJ’s “mainstream” members, defeated Hosono 133 to 120 in the runoff, which was based on the votes of Diet members and one candidate running for the next Upper House election. The runoff was held immediately after it was determined none of the three had garnered 50 percent or more of the votes in the first poll. Former health minister Akira Nagatsuma, 54, who was backed by the party’s liberal members, was trounced in the first round.” [Source: Mizuho Aoki and Reiji Yoshida, Japan Times, January 18, 2015 ~]

“Okada replaces Banri Kaieda, who lost his Lower House seat in the December 2014 snap general election.“We will gain a majority in the next general election. . . . It’s also important to win the next Upper House election. We will aim for winning a majority,” Okada said at a news conference after the runoff. Okada is to serve as party head until September 2017. ~

“With the election over, focus shifts to ways to rebuild a party that has struggled to turn itself around since its devastating defeat in the December 2012 election. But how Okada can clearly differentiate the party from the ruling LDP is still unclear because he does not completely oppose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on such issues as nuclear power plant restarts and his “Abenomics” strategy. As the next Upper House election is scheduled for 2016, Okada is preparing to select candidates. Stressing the importance of increasing the number of female lawmakers, Okada has said he will publicly seek female candidates. ~

“Although Okada has repeatedly denied any possibility of the DPJ merging with Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), the second-largest opposition party, he reiterated the importance of cooperating with the other opposition parties in the Diet and in elections. Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University, said even with the change at the helm, the DPJ has a grim chance of gaining wider public support. “I don’t expect the party’s support rate to go up even with the change of the party’s leader,” Kawakami told The Japan Times. If the DPJ really wants to rebuild itself in ways strong enough to face off with the LDP, the party needs to gain support from voters other than labor unions, he said. The “chance for the DPJ to boot itself up is when the ruling camp makes crucial mistakes that trigger anger from citizens, such as (any) failure of Abe’s economic policies,” Kawakami said. “But sadly, even if such a thing happens, as I see the current state of the party, I don’t think it will raise hopes for the DPJ among swing voters,” he said. ~

“The DPJ presidential election was the first in which the votes of its rank-and-file members and supporters outweighed those of its Diet members. In his own words, party members view Okada as a fundamentalist, but he said he is comfortable with that view. “I’m nicknamed as ‘fundamentalist.’ I believe this is a word of praise,” Okada in a speech before the final vote Sunday. “It’s quite important for a politician to stand firm and not to waver. But that doesn’t seem to be all the things” the nickname means, he said, drawing laughter from the audience. ~

“Okada is known as a sharp debater with extensive knowledge of policy matters. He was popular during his last stint as party leader in 2004 and 2005. But at the same time, he has often been criticized for lacking flexibility and being too strict with others, failing to win the hearts of many Diet members. Thus Okada, who is often satirically called a “policy fundamentalist,” does not have a large number of close followers in the Diet. The last time he ran in a DPJ presidential race, in 2009, he lost to Yukio Hatoyama, who became its first prime minister later that year. “Some friends say I don’t listen to what people are saying to the end. Others say I’m not very warm-hearted,” he said. “I myself need to change,” Okada said in his final appeal to the Diet members right before the second round of voting.” ~

At the party convention, “DPJ members elected Okada after apparently preferring his experience and stability as party leader to the freshness of rival Hosono, who would have promoted a generational change of party executives if elected. But as Okada pointed out, whether the party and Okada himself can drastically change their public images is the most important question the party faces. Polls have shown voters were deeply disappointed with the way the party operates. ~

“Okada, a Lower House member elected from the No. 3 district of Mie Prefecture, is a son of Takuya Okada, founder of the Aeon supermarket group, one of the largest retailing businesses in Japan. After graduating from the law faculty at the University of Tokyo, he joined the powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1976. After leaving in 1988, he was elected to the Lower House for the first time as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1990. He jointed the DPJ in 1998. Since then, Okada has been one of its key DPJ executives. He served as foreign minister under Prime Ministers Yukio Hatoyama and Naoto Kan in 2009 and 2010, respectively, and then was deputy prime minister in charge of social security and administrative reforms in 2012 in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. As a deputy chief of the DPJ, Okada was among top party executives who organized election campaigns during the latest Lower House election in December.” ~

Revitalizing the Opposition in Japan

Robin Harding wrote in the Financial Times: In an effort to compete with the prime minister and his ruling Liberal Democratic party, Mr Okada has spent much of the past year tidying up the opposition, which had almost as many parties as politicians. Those efforts culminated in a recent merger with the Japan Innovation party. The new party has 96 seats in the lower house, compared with the 73 it won at the last election, and 291 for the LDP. [Source: Robin Harding, Financial Times, May 1, 2016 |::|]

“To shake off its disastrous spell in government from 2009-12, the resulting party changed its name from ‘Minshuto’ to ‘Minshinto’, which translates literally as ‘Democratic Progress party’. (Confusingly, it wants to be known in English as the ‘Democratic party’ instead of the ‘Democratic party of Japan’). |::|

Although the JIP was regarded as rightwing and populist, Mr Okada says it shed those elements before the merger and the ideology of the new DP is unchanged. The party has always been a broad church, from trade unionists on the left to LDP refugees on the right, blurring its identity. |::|

“Mr Okada has also arranged a loose co-operation with the Communist party, which will stop nominating candidates in some first-past-the-post seats. “Until now, they have usually had a candidate in every constituency, and that means the opposition to the LDP is split. If they take 20,000 or 30,000 votes, the Democratic candidate can’t win,” Mr Okada says. That creates the potential for significant DP gains this summer, although the opposition lost a recent by-election on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they put forward a single candidate, by 4 percentage points. |::|

“When the DPJ was elected in 2009, it seemed Japan was entering an era of competitive two-party politics, only for the opposition to fragment once again. Now, Mr Okada believes he is slowly stitching it back together. “It’s not going to be a pure two-party system because we don’t just have first past the post, there is a proportional segment as well,” he says. “But governments are going to be centred on the LDP or the DP.” |::|

Image Sources: 1) 2) Wikipedia, 3) 4) 5) 7) 10) Kantei, Office of Japanese Prime Minister site, 6) 12) Japan Zone, 8), 9) Minshuto 11) Ray Kinnane, Posters, right wing, Japan Photo japan-photo.de ;

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2016

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