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Shinzo Abe

Fears that DPJ is slipping into obscurity as 'Abenomics' take hold

Party tries to shake image as marriage of convenience for disparate factions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 May, 2013, 1:25am

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Six months ago, the Democratic Party of Japan controlled a large majority in both houses of the Diet and had outlined ambitious plans to reinvigorate the nation.

But the cracks in the party's facade were already apparent. Discredited in the run-up to December's general election, the DPJ was soundly defeated by the Liberal Democratic Party and is today lagging in opinion polls as July's elections for the Upper House of the Diet edge closer.

There have even been suggestions that a party that was seen as the great hope for Japan's future when it was elected in September 2009 could tear itself apart.

Banri Kaieda, elected party president after the December debacle at the polls, disputes that and says the differences within the DPJ are "tolerable".

"Until the election of last year, I think there was a great diversity of opinion within the party and we were not cohesive," he said in Tokyo yesterday. "And then we suffered a tremendous defeat.

Until the election of last year, I think there was a great diversity of opinion within the party and we were not cohesive

"Today, I don't think there is one single member of the party who wants to make it smaller, but we do have some diversity in our thinking, although I believe it is in a tolerable range," he said. "Compared to some other parties, I do not think we have members on the extreme left or extreme right."

Kaieda may be correct, but that is more likely due to the fact that the party now has only 57 seats in the lower house, compared to 308 seats before the vote .

The outlook for the vote is hardly rosy either, with the DPJ recording a support rate of about 16 per cent in recent opinion polls and the LDP close to 40 per cent.

Should the ruling party do well in July, and indications are that it will, then that will give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sufficient clout in both houses to push through the first changes to the constitution since it was promulgated in 1946.

The changes that Abe has already outlined have been criticised by some for eroding human rights, by demanding respect for the national flag and anthem and giving the authorities the right to gag the media.

Kaieda disagrees with tinkering with the constitution, in the same way that he opposes the LDP's plans to turn the nation's nuclear reactors back on and the dramatic economic policies that are being implemented in the name of "Abenomics".

There are fears that unless the DPJ can shake off the image that it is more a marriage of convenience for disparate factions than a genuine political party, then its star will wane even faster.

But Kaieda continues the struggle, attempting to distance himself from the previous leadership by claiming that he already had greatly differing views from Yoshihiko Noda when he stood against him in the August 2011 vote for the party presidency.

Kaieda lost that vote. He may face a similar fate in July.