TOKYO – The Japanese Communist Party is the oldest political party in the country. It is the largest non-ruling Communist Party in the world. He harshly criticizes China. And the Japanese authorities classify it, along with Daesh and North Korea, as a threat to national security.
To many in Japan, this comparison seems exaggerated. The party, which long abandoned Marx and Lenin and never really had time for Stalin or Mao, is about as radical as a beige waistcoat: anti-war, pro-democracy, pro-economic for the ‘equality.
But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a primary target of Japan’s dominant political force, the Liberal Democratic Party, ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections that will help the country emerge from the pandemic.
Despite only gaining 3% support in the polls, the Communists have become a practical bogeyman after first partnering with Japan’s main opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the PLD . The Communists agreed to withdraw their candidates from several districts to avoid dividing the liberal vote.
Conservative Liberal Democrats, who have governed almost continuously since the end of World War II, are in little risk of losing power. But with their popularity on the decline amid a weak economy and lingering questions about their handling of the coronavirus, they tried to change the subject by describing the vote as a choice between democratic rule and Communist infiltration.
“The Communist Party’s strategy is to get its foot in the door,” Taro Kono, PLD public affairs chief, told voters during a campaign hiatus. “Then they open it and take the house,” he added.
The Japanese Communist Party, founded in 1922, has long provoked government animosity. He vigorously opposed Japan’s military aggression before and during World War II, and the Japanese secret police persecuted and imprisoned the Communists until the end of the conflict.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Liberal Democrats – aided by the CIA – carried out a brutal crackdown on the group, which briefly flirted with political violence and became a rallying point for anti-American student protests.
Despite its name, the JCP has largely abandoned its roots in favor of its own local ideology. He broke with the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s and has recently become one of Beijing’s most vocal Japanese critics, denouncing his neighbor for following the path of “hegemony” and violating human rights. in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. When the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, the JCP was the only major Japanese party not to send congratulations.
Still, the Japan National Police Agency continued to treat the group as a threat. In its annual report on threats to the nation, it unites the JCP with the Islamic State, North Korea and Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese sect that killed 13 people and injured thousands in a gas attack. neurotoxicant in the Tokyo metro in 1995.
Japanese Communists, police note, are aging rapidly, losing financial resources – mostly generated by subscriptions to their newspaper, Akahata or Red Flag – and struggling to attract new members.
The agency is not clear on the real threat posed by the group. He notes that the Communists were planning to join other opposition parties to challenge the PLD, and that they had “added ‘gender equality’ and” a nuclear-free Japan “” to their platform. (The JCP presents more female candidates than almost any other Japanese party.)
These two initiatives are to some extent opposed by the Liberal Democrats – who, for example, rejected legislation allowing women to keep their last names after marriage – even though they are popular with the general public.
But these are not among the main problems for voters in the next election. Their priorities are clear: to control the coronavirus and get the economy ravaged by the pandemic back on track. Neither is necessarily a winner for the PLD, which, while unlikely to lose, is likely to emerge seriously weakened from the election.
Japan reports just a few hundred cases of Covid-19 each day, and vaccination figures have exceeded those of most other countries, despite a slow start. Nonetheless, it feels like the ruling party has mismanaged the crisis, failing the national rollout of the vaccine and delaying the country’s recovery. Stories of coronavirus patients dying at home despite numerous hospital beds have further hardened public opinion.
The current economic policies, which have failed to lift the country out of stagnation, are also unpopular, so much so that Fumio Kishida, who became prime minister this month after winning the LDP leadership elections, is is presented against them. Mr. Kishida promised he would fight growing inequalities through a (very socialist) wealth redistribution program.
He has since reneged on those promises and appears ready to continue the policies of his predecessors largely unchanged.
The threat the Japanese Communist Party poses to the PLD may not have come from its size – the Communists never won more than 13% of the vote in a lower house election – but from the dedication of its people. members. The JCP, which has a very organized base, could play a big role in attracting votes to the opposition, said Tomoaki Iwai, professor of political science at Nihon University.
âIt is an organization that has the power to collect ballots,â he said.
By focusing attention on the Japanese Communists, the PLD and its ruling partner, the Komeito, are betting that voters’ disgust for the big “C” communism and fear of a rising China will move them away from the opposition coalition. said Taku Sugawara, a political scientist.
âUntil recently, as far as the PLD is concerned, the Communists were just a group that annoyed the other opposition parties,â he said. “But now that they are clearly a threat, they have become a major target of criticism.”
While there is a broad consensus in Japan that Beijing’s rise to power poses a threat to regional stability, the LDP and JCP are divided on how to deal with it.
Liberal Democrats called for doubling military spending, increasing defense cooperation with the United States, and amending Japan’s pacifist constitution to give it, among other things, the ability to carry out first strikes against adversaries that threaten national security.
Japanese Communists, however, prefer a diplomatic approach and are strongly opposed to a substantial US military presence in Japan, a position that makes it an exception among Japanese political parties.
At a recent rally outside bustling Shinjuku station in central Tokyo, Komeito candidates warned a small group of potential voters that the JCP and its political partners’ divergent views on national defense would prevent them to govern competently.
(The hawkish LDP and its conciliatory coalition partner have themselves long disagreed over whether to increase military spending or change Japan’s constitution to remove its ban on warfare. And Komeito is known for his reluctance. to criticize Beijing.)
The Japanese Communists have said their differences with other opposition parties will not affect a new government. Communists say they won’t seek any role if opposition overthrows PLD
But it’s hard to say what would actually happen if the opposition gained power, said political science professor Mr Iwai.
None of the coalition members “really think they are going to win,” he said. So when it comes to discussing what to do next, “no one has thought about that until then.”