The steady if unspectacular rise of the Your Party (Minna no to - "Everyone's Party") Japan's answer to Germany's Free Democrats, the most liberal (in the classical, Edmund Burke sense of the word) party ever in postwar Japanese politics, is history. (Link)
The rupture in between party leader Watanabe Yoshimi and his former secretary-general Eda Kenji occurred months ago, leading to a peculiar situation of an authoritarian leader and his rebel former second-in-command cohabiting in utter contempt of each other. However it took the passage of the Special Secrets Protection Act, and the public role the Your Party played in transforming the Liberal Democratic Party's bill into law, to convince a decent number of Your Party members of the Diet to join Eda in defecting.
On the surface, Your Party did no worse in its attempt to modify the LDP draft secrets bill than the other two parties -- the New Komeito and the Japan Restoration Party -- who co-sponsored the bill. All three failed to demand from the LDP the severe changes the bill needed to serve its ostensible purpose of protecting Japanese citizens from possible harm. Fooled and/or perhaps tempted by the prospect of influencing an overwhelmingly powerful LDP, the three parties asked for only the weakest of amendments -- which a bemused LDP leadership, in a false show of magnanimity, gleefully accepted. In the case of the JRP's proposals, the LDP took the liberty of accepting the JRP ideas that made a bad bill even worse while ignoring the proposals suggesting a setting of limits on bureaucratic power. The JRP's humiliation at this cherry-picking -- which, to be fair, was inherent in the JRP's ridiculous mix of ideas -- led the JRP to boycott the final vote in the House of Representatives, leaving the New Komeito and the Your Party (minus some defectors led by Eda) to swallow their pride and vote for the monstrosity.
Classing the Your Party as a party in opposition has always been problematic. Your Party, despite its reformist creed, sat on the sidelines and cast stones during the brief three years a Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition was in power. Effectively if not openly Your Party was a cat's paw of the disgraced LDP, scratching and often wounding the upstart Democrats.
Once the change in power reversed itself last December, the Your Party has a right to take a seat at the table. It did not, however, leaving Eda and others in the party wondering what the party's role was. If all that the Your Party could glean from having been an agent of the LDP was a few more seats in the Diet, then the quid pro quo, such as it was, was unfulfilling. Collaboration with the LDP to tear down the Democrats should have resulted in significant influence on policy if the silent bargain was to be seen as worthwhile.
Your Party's survival as an entity entered a critical phase when it entered into negotiations with the LDP on the secrecy bill. No one could ignore the glaring contradiction in between the party's stated goals of trimming the powers of the bureaucracy and the secrecy bill's stunning bequest of power to the bureaucrats to wall off information from the public eye.
What doomed Your Party solidarity was what should have been the party's ace-in-the-hole: party leader Watanabe's close personal friendship with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Watanabe was one of a trio -- who with Abe formed a quartet jokingly called the "Abe Road Group" -- that pushed Abe in August of 2012 to run for the presidency of the LDP. Watanabe and Abe dined together and have kept in constant contact, even as the Your Party was in supposed opposition to the LDP.
That Watanabe could not capitalize on his friendship with the head of the ruling party, by getting more from the LDP in terms of concessions on issues supposedly vital to the Your Party, begged the question as to what, if anything, membership in the Your Party meant, as an electoral platform and in terms of influence on policy and governance.
The answer, according to yesterday's 14 defectors, is that it meant nothing -- which left them no recourse but to follow their instincts for self-preservation.
The fission of the Your Party poses a question to all the smaller parties in the Diet, including the come-hell-or-high-water LDP ally the New Komeito. With the LDP in such a dominant position, and given fates of the smaller parties that have taken part in ruling coalitions or coalitions of convenience over the past 15 years, what can a party do to retain relevance on the policy front while remaining viable as a political entity?
Later - Many thanks to the anonymous commenter who noted the error in the title.
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