Self-criticism not enough; DPJ must learn from the past
Self-critical phrases were found throughout a Democratic Party of Japan report reviewing the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election. The report was quite unusual for an official document of a political party, but the real issue is whether the DPJ can use it to rebuild itself.
The report on the party's humiliating defeat and its handling of the government for about three years and three months was approved Wednesday at a general meeting of the secretaries general of local DPJ chapters. Dubbed a "plan to reform and recreate the DPJ," the report will be officially approved at a party convention scheduled for Sunday.
In the report, the party carefully avoided pointing fingers at anyone as a direct cause of the defeat. However, it did point out a "chain of errors committed by party heads," including those of three prime ministers--Yukio Hatoyama's haphazard handling of the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, Naoto Kan's remarks suggesting a consumption tax hike and Yoshihiko Noda's failure to properly set the date for a lower house dissolution.
The report also admitted that the secession of party members, notably former party President Ichiro Ozawa and his followers, dealt a huge blow to the DPJ's image. This made the public feel "it was inappropriate to entrust the helm of government to a group unable to govern itself," the report said.
Responsibility of 'troika' leaders
Those analyses all have a point. We believe Hatoyama, Kan and Ozawa--once dubbed the troika of the DPJ--are especially responsible for the defeat. If the DPJ really wants to rally from the historical defeat and once again become a rival of the Liberal Democratic Party, it is essential to wholeheartedly examine past mistakes and thoroughly learn from them.
In addition to the faults of the party leadership, we should not overlook the DPJ's lack of governance--a chronic problem for the entire party. Failure to communicate with bureaucrats, party management that lacks unity, members' lack of awareness that they should uphold the party's decisions--all the things pointed out in the report were on the mark.
However, the problem is that all those problems had already been pointed out during the time the DPJ held the reins of government. Instead of taking effective measures to deal with them, the party spent all its energy on intraparty conflicts, such as the battle between the pro- and anti-Ozawa groups.
Based on its review of the general election defeat, the reform plan made seven proposals for the DPJ.
They include suggestions such as "carry the flag of a reformist party and march toward the realization of our reform goals," and "listen to the wide array of public opinions, utilize the knowledge of experts and reinforce our ability to convey our messages to the public."
Proposals too abstract
Frankly speaking, we were disappointed with the abstractness of the proposals. The proposals were supposed to be the centerpiece of the report to help the party fight in the House of Councillors election scheduled for this summer. However, they seem far from serving this aim.
The party needs to promptly decide on institutional reforms, such as how the party's decision-making system should be shaped and the status of its Policy Research Committee. The DPJ has been struggling with such reforms since it took power.
The reform proposal said the DPJ "will offer counterproposals to ruling parties' policies, to fulfill the role of an opposition party capable of creating new values." Having said that, it will be important for the party to utilize the experience of holding the reins of government and tenaciously stick offer viable alternatives to the government's policies.
Currently, the Diet is divided with the DPJ holding the most seats in the upper house. Thus the party shares the responsibility to move politics forward. If the party examines the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration appropriately and gives constructive criticism as a responsible opposition party, it will lend a disciplined atmosphere to the national administration.
At the same time, it will be important for the DPJ not to hesitate in cooperating with the ruling parties to realize policies that serve the national interest, as such an attitude could be an important step in restoring the public's trust.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 21, 2013)