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JapanSunday, March 27

Opposition Unites, Eyes Summer Vote

Two of Japan's main opposition groups have joined forces. The leader of the new Democratic Party says it will stop what he calls the out-of-control behavior of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration.

Diet members, local lawmakers and supporters packed the party's first convention. They hope the merger will help their chances against the country's powerful governing coalition, comprising the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito.

"It's our last chance to achieve a change of power," Democratic Party President Katsuya Okada told the crowd.

The new organization has more than 150 members in the Diet. Most of them previously belonged to the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Innovation Party.

The DPJ was the largest opposition group. Japan Innovation was the third-largest. Those two organizations have merged to become the Democratic Party, or Minshinto in Japanese.

The new organization also has one independent Diet member, and 4 who left a party called Vision of Reform.

Okada was chosen as leader, and lawmakers adopted a platform upholding "freedom, co-existence and responsibility for the future."

The merger comes ahead of this summer's Upper House election.

But some members say the party has yet to overcome differences of opinion on key policies. They include nuclear energy and whether to raise the consumption tax.

The LDP-Komeito coalition has more than twice as many Diet seats as the Democrats, and a senior LDP member says he doesn't expect much from the new party.

"It may not be difficult to establish a new party, but it's not so easy to create a mature organization," said LDP General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai.

But members of the governing coalition are paying close attention to the new party. They're waiting to see whether voters will go for its message.

In addition to the Upper House elections, some senior members have also hinted of Lower House elections soon -- a possible attempt to intimidate the new party.

Both camps are racing to be ready.