New party in Japan faces tough road to reshaping opposition

The newly created opposition party Ishin no To (Restoration Party) aims to spearhead efforts to realign the opposition camp, but observers say its prospects for success remain unclear.

The Sunday launch of Ishin no To came before sufficient efforts were made to reconcile the policy differences between the two now-defunct parties - Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Yui no To (Unity Party) - that merged to create it.

There is also a gap between the new party's coleaders, Toru Hashimoto and Kenji Eda, on their positions for dealing with the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

All this combines with the apparent lack of internal unity within the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and within fellow opposition party Your Party. Ishin no To hopes to join hands with both to achieve its objective of realigning the opposition parties.

Hashimoto's Ishin no Kai and Eda's Yui no To merged on Sunday to launch Ishin no To. Both known for their ability to communicate their ideas to the public, Hashimoto and Eda are committed to triggering the realignment of opposition parties, to oppose the ruling coalition.

At a press conference following Ishin no To's inauguration ceremony, Hashimoto looked back on the developments leading up to his agreement with Shintaro Ishihara, then another Ishin no Kai coleader, to split their party. Ishihara and some other Ishin no Kai members had been reluctant to merge with Yui no To.

"I'll achieve [my goal] at any cost, considering I went so far as to separate from Mr. Ishihara, whom I was fond of, to try to bring opposition parties together. [The launch of] Ishin no To is merely one phase in the realignment [of the opposition camp]," Hashimoto said.

He also emphasised his determination to "take the initiative" in negotiating with other opposition parties over his ambition to realign the opposition bloc.

Some members of the new party were buoyant about Hashimoto's determination, according to observers. "He fired a starting gun for the opposition's realignment," one Ishin no To member said.

However, it is unclear whether the new party will actually be able to play a leadership role in this respect, according to observers.

Before the split of Ishin no Kai, Hashimoto and some other party officials wanted to take the initiative on the realignment after replacing the DPJ as the largest opposition force in the House of Representatives. By achieving this goal, he was determined to play a leadership role in the opposition's realignment.

However, Ishin no Kai's split reduced the number of lawmakers close to Hashimoto. Ishin no To's strength in the lower house now stands at 42, while the DPJ has 56 members in that chamber.

During Sunday's press conference, Hashimoto described his idea of generating momentum for the realignment of opposition parties in cooperation with conservative members of the DPJ.

"I want DPJ members to be flag bearers, given their party's experience in taking the reins of government," he said.

However, some members of other opposition parties are reportedly unenthusiastic about joining forces with Ishin no To. DPJ President Banri Kaieda has expressed a negative opinion about realignment, sentiments echoed by DPJ Secretary Yukio Edano. "I don't think the realignment is a foregone conclusion," Edano said.

Moreover, the opposition camp does not seem united on some key policy issues, including a previously envisaged increase in the consumption tax rate from 8 per cent to 10 per cent in October next year.

The DPJ is set to make a cautious decision about the tax increase issue, based on close observation of economic trends, while Ishin no To insists on postponing the tax rate hike. On the other hand, Your Party is facing such serious internal discord over its leadership that it cannot afford to discuss fundamental issues like the tax increase at this time.