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Published:April 8th, 2010 10:14 EST
Japan's Newest Opposition Group: The "Stand Up Japan" Party

Japan's Newest Opposition Group: The "Stand Up Japan" Party

By Geoff Dean


It sounds like the perfect time to start a new party, especially in opposition to the Hatoyama Administration. According to a recent survey in the Yomiuri Shimbun (Newspaper), the approval ratings for PM Hatoyama`s Democratic Party of Japan and the main opposition, Liberal Democratic Party, have both cratered, with more than 50% of voters declaring no allegiance to any party.

 Furthermore, nearly 80% have called for DPJ Secretary General and kingpin, Ichiro Ozawa, to resign over his political funds scandals. The approval rating for the cabinet has fallen to 33% (from nearly 70% just six months ago), while disapproval has reached 56%, with 44% of the disapprovers citing lack of leadership from the Prime Minister. 49% have said that the PM should resign if the Futenma issue is not satisfactorily resolved by the end of May. In normal times, we would be counting the number of remaining days of the PM and playing parlor games to guess his successor.

 Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your view, the LDP is doing worse. It`s approval rate dropped to 16%, an all-time low, with most respondents citing it as irresponsible and not "a viable alternative" to the current government. A recent scandal where one LDP member cast parliamentary votes on behalf of an absent fellow, an illegal practice which led to his resignation, has furthered the distrust of the LDP.

 Into this void enters a new party, the "Stand Up Japan" Party. Made up of defectors from the LDP who were disaffected with the leadership of that party, they promise to attack the Hatoyama government forcefully and bring about "regime change" as one put it.

 Unfortunately, while former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, one of the new party`s heavyweights, predicted a start out with ten members, only five materialized, the bare minimum for registration as a party in the Diet. One reason is that former International Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, the new party`s leader who was expelled from the LDP for his opposition to former PM Junichiro Koizumi`s Postal Privatization Plan, is seen as an arch-conservative, even in largely conservative Japan. He has called for a return to traditional Japanese values, reduction of immigration (already negligible), increasing the death penalty`s use, limited militarization, and the like. Yosano, on the other hand, was in charge of planning the Postal Privatization Plan in his role as Finance Minister in the Koizumi Administration and is often referred to in the media as a neo-liberal (whatever that might mean).

 The presence of Yosano in the new party caused several members of the "Hiranuma Group", a handful of Hiranuma-leaning LDP members, not to defect to the new party.

 The other issue is age. While not wanting to be ageist, it is hard not to note that the ages of the five party members are 72, 71, 70, 68, 67. The expected influx of younger members does not look to be happening. It has led some in the Japanese media to cruelly joke that the "Stand Up Japan" Party will soon hardly be able to stand up.

Worst of all, the party has no clear cut ideology other than opposing the Hatoyama Adminstration and the current LDP, as well. While many Japanese many share the new party`s opposition to the two groups, the SUJ seems even less qualified and "viable", experienced party stalwarts notwithstanding. And the fundamental differences between Hiranuma and Yosano mean that clear policies will not be forthcoming. This is even reflected in the uplifting but vague party name.

 I feel some sympathy for politicians trying to shake up a deeply flawed Japanese political situation and can`t blame them from "jumping ship" as the Japan Times put it, but the only likely result is to further divide and weaken the LDP, possibly helping the Hatoyama Adminstration that they vow to oppose. Stand Up Japan, feel free to remain seated.