The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan held its 2021 Regular Convention online on January 31. The following is Party leader  Yukio Edano's message conveyed at the end of the program.

 ■ Greetings                                                                                          

Our activity plan for 2021 has now been approved, thanks to you all.

We must ‘protect lives and livelihoods’ from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts, as well as the weaknesses and fragility of Japanese society that have been revealed by this situation. And, we must become an ‘option for regime change,’ in order to create a government that can function for this purpose.

I will do my utmost to achieve these two goals, drawing on all wisdom and strength.

■ The Crisis of COVID-19

● A government-created ‘man-made disaster’

The first declaration of a state of emergency last year forced the public to endure a great deal of pain, which we somehow managed to survive. We should bear in mind, however, the endless number of people who experienced enormous hardships, such as the many people who cooperated with temporary business closures while fearing bankruptcy or going out of business; those who lost their jobs and were at a loss; and parents and children's clubs who were thrown into confusion by the sudden closure of schools.

We must not allow a situation which asks for the same hardships again. I am sure this is the consensus of many.

However, after the declaration of the state of emergency was lifted, the government pushed ahead with measures such as the GoTo campaign, even though many people feared that it was premature. At the same time, despite repeated warnings that the virus could spread in the winter months, the government was slow to expand the testing capacity of public health centers and support for medical facilities.

The current declaration of the state of emergency was also issued with a major delay, despite the opinions of many experts and the opposition, including the CDP. It is the government's failure that has led to the current explosion of COVID-19 cases and the collapse of healthcare. This current crisis situation is nothing but a ‘man-made disaster.’

● Trust in Politics Lost

The most serious problem is that the trust of people in the government has been broken.

The Prime Minister – the chief executive of the country - has refused to acknowledge his own failures and has repeatedly made "requests" to the people, while failing to respond to their questions and concerns. The government's support and compensation for those unable to continue their work or business due to the repeated emergency declarations, and for those whose livelihoods are in uncertainty, is not only lagging behind, but also completely inadequate.

Above all, the government's COVID-19 countermeasures lack a medium- to long-term outlook towards containment of the virus, and no satisfactory explanation of the scientific basis of these measures has been provided to the public.

It must be said that the biggest obstacle in Japan's fight against COVID-19 is the attitude of the government. It is blind to the realities of people's lives. It disregards scientific knowledge. It lacks the words to sincerely explain and appeal to the people.

In order to prevent the spread of the virus, it is essential for the government and the people to unite and work together. The trust of the people in politics must be regained as soon as possible. The first thing that Japan must do in order to overcome COVID-19 is transform the current politics into a politics of trust.

● The Concerns of the People

As the negative impacts of COVID-19 on employment and the economy are taking their toll, extremely painful realities, including the rising suicide rate, are becoming apparent. Each and every one of those numbers, of indicators such as the number of people who have died, the number of people who are seriously ill, or the numbers of unemployment and bankruptcy, has a life, a face, a name.

There were lives that could have been saved and predicaments that could have been avoided if the government had taken proper measures.

Recently there was a news report about a woman who committed suicide while under self-quarantine at home. It was reported that she had become a close COVID-19 contact within her household, and was troubled by a feeling of guilt that she might have infected others. Within the situation where both testing and health care regimes cannot keep up, I am deeply pained when I imagine what she must have been going through, and as a politician, I cannot help but feel ashamed. “How long will this situation last?" That is the concern shared by all citizens.

● Voices from Hearings

The CDP has held hearings in various places since the beginning of the pandemic last year in order to directly listen to the voices of experts, supporters, and above all, of people directly impacted.

When the second state of emergency was declared this year, we also conducted hearings with people involved in restaurants, who are in particularly difficult circumstances. They have been suffering since last year, with repeated requests for closures and shorter opening hours, and with no clear future in sight. One business owner stated, “Why can’t they just say, “As the government, we have this particular outlook. Please hold on for now”?”

A woman who has been working part-time at a major restaurant chain while raising two children has lost her livelihood prospects because she did not receive furlough benefits due to restrictions on the size of the company. Even though the business depends on the work of non-regular and part-time employees for most of their daily operations, only regular employees were eligible for compensation.

When she asked the company about the difference in treatment, she was told, "Isn't it indulgent to think that you can get money just by asking for it?” She choked back her tears as she asked us, “is the government just going to abandon us?”

We also heard from another relatively older non-regular employee, who was also not entitled to benefits due to the scale of their employer. They said, “I have a family who can support me, and a small pension, so I can still get by. But, there are many young people who can’t even manage to make their voices heard by politics.” With the income that made their lives possible suddenly cut off, many young people from the same workplace are now scrambling to find a day-to-day wage.

■ Toward Zero COVID – The Responsibility of the CDP

● The Responsibility of Politics

The pandemic has brought out the distortions of the politics to date in many aspects. This goes beyond the government's failed response; it is the result of the limitations of the society that Japanese politics has driven until now, with its emphasis on competition and self-responsibility.

The Suga administration, which came into power in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, has emphasized "self-help" even during this period. However, are those people now suffering really lacking in effort to help themselves?

Are those in the food and beverage industry, who have cooperated with repeated requests for temporary closures and shortened hours, and are in danger of going out of business, going bankrupt, or being laid off due to the government's slow response, responsible for the situation?

Are the women who supported their families through part-time work in order to raise their children now unable to receive furlough benefits and without prospects of making a living, responsible? 

Are those who have been forced into part-time employment by the deregulation promoted by politics for the past 30 years, and who are now receiving discriminatory treatment due to COVID-19, responsible?

Absolutely not. The responsibility lies with politics.

The various problems currently occurring are the result of the politics itself, which has pursued only short-term efficiency and neglected to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people. If that is the case, then politics itself must change. And only we, the Constitutional Democratic Party, can change this.

● The Steps Toward Zero COVID

First of all, thorough countermeasures against COVID-19 contagion are the highest priority, and the first step in economic measures as well.

Giving top priority to the expansion of the testing system and support for the front lines of health care, and aiming for "Zero COVID," is the way to quickly restore an environment in which people can resume economic activities with peace of mind, whether travelling or having dinners.  If economic activity is increased, contagion will also spread. Unfortunately, the GoTo campaign has clearly shown us this harsh reality.

The contagion must be controlled to the level where it will not spread again. Such a fundamental new policy for dealing with the pandemic is the vision of “Zero COVID.”

In order to achieve this goal, the first priority is to provide support to healthcare facilities and workers, and to secure hospital beds. This is needed in order to stop the collapse and breakdown of the healthcare system, which is the stronghold that protects lives.

Secondly, we must prevent the spread of infection by early identification of those infected, including those who are asymptomatic, and ensuring their isolation.

Third, until the virus is contained, the government must take responsibility for preparing compensation to prevent bankruptcy and business closures, and realizing livelihood support so that no one will be left behind.

Only by thoroughly addressing these three issues and putting in place a system to immediately contain any signs of another expansion of contagion will we be able to run our economy with peace of mind.                                                             

In the current Diet session, we will first work toward resolving these three issues, as the initial step toward “Zero COVID.”

● The Role of the CDP

During this period, the CDP has made many concrete proposals to the government and the ruling parties, including reconfiguration of the budget and submission of bills through parliamentary legislation.

At a meeting of party leaders in early March last year, I myself made direct and concrete proposals to then Prime Minister Abe, including expansion of PCR testing, support for those whose livelihoods would be affected by the temporary closures of businesses, and consolidation of information related to the pandemic and centralization of public relations offices. I stated, “we will spare no effort to cooperate. We will continue to actively provide policy recommenations and information. We hope that you will take action with responsibility.”

However, it is difficult to say that Prime Minister Abe and his successor, Prime Minister Suga, have actively accepted or implemented such proposals.

It is clear that the ruling party has neither the will nor the capacity to contain the pandemic.

It is the CDP that can examine the government's failures of the past year, display a science-based and clear schedule, and appeal to the people with a plan for the control of COVID-19. We must take heed of the difficult circumstances of the people, deliver support where it is needed with the highest priority, and take action together to overcome this crisis.

Following last year's issues of the revision of the Public Prosecutor's Office Act and the Common Entrance Examination for Universities, we were able to achieve great results including on the issues of the revision of the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response and the Act on the Prevention of Infectious Diseases, by preventing the inclusion of criminal penalties and approving a supplementary resolution to make financial measures more concrete.

On September 15 last year, we came together as the largest opposition party with 150 members, overcoming various circumstances and difficulties. I am once again convinced that if this united force is connected with the voices of the many voters on the ground, it can lead to significant results that will exceed the number of seats currently held in the Diet.

Through our clear vision of "Zero COVID,” we will unite with the people to tackle the pandemic.  This is the ideal form of politics and the role that the CDP should play in this crisis.

Together with all of you, I am determined to take the lead in fulfilling this role.

■ Becoming an Option for Government

● A Turning Point in World History

COVID-19 has placed the entire world at a turning point in history.

In past battles against pandemics, humanity has moved forward step by step, based on scientific knowledge and by repeatedly learning from mistakes.

Pandemics and diseases often bring chaos and division to a society. And thus, politics that is caught up in short-term political interests and accelerates fragmentation has always been defeated throughout history.

On the same day that I asked a representative question in the Diet, the new administration under President Joseph Biden began in the United States. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the world's politics and society are undergoing a major transformation.

■ The Historic Mission of the CDP

The current COVID-19 crisis has made me realise is that it has led to a fundamental re-examination of Japanese politics as we know it.

Since the second half of last year, a number of people who had previously managed to sustain themselves have fallen into a state of poverty.

Last year, after much hesitation, a young woman came for advice. She said, "I thought I had no choice but to hang myself. But I am human. For better or worse, I wanted to live.” This is what she shared with a support staff.

“I've decided for better or worse, I want to live.” Japan has become a society where young people in need are forced to say these kinds of words. Due to the government's so-called " borderline strategy," even if such youth apply for social welfare they will not be recognized. Or, knowing such a situation, they are hesitant to ask for help in the first place. At the same time, the people working in the government who provide such consultations are also in a situation where personnel and budget cuts mean that they are unable to respond to the situation with individual efforts and a sense of mission.

It is undoubtedly the politics of the past, with its emphasis on self-help, that has created this society. It has already become clear that the LDP-Komeito government, which has led us to this point, is unable to cope with this historic change.

In this crisis, we are prepared to take on the historic mission of shifting to a politics of mutual support and protecting lives and livelihoods.

● Our Unity is at Stake

After nearly eight years of disunity, the non-LDP forces united last September in the form of the new CDP in order to meet head-on the voices of the people who are suffering from the COVID-19 crisis. It is a great asset for the CDP that we have been able to gather a broad and diverse group of partners, both in terms of generation and in specialized policy fields.

However, it is not easy to win the approval of the majority of voters as an option for government.

If we try to be clever or pander to the masses, many people will see right through us and we will lose their trust.

What we must do now is first of all realise the vision of "Zero COVID," and to steadily do our utmost to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people in front of us. And in order to do this, we must be prepared to bring diverse forces together and unite strongly.

Each of us must constantly ask ourselves what we can and should do in order to achieve our main immediate goal of relieving people’s hardship and overcoming COVID-19, and act accordingly .

Let us listen to the voices of people in our respective communities about their lives, connect with the people impacted, gather wisdom, and together confront this crisis to realize a change in politics. National Diet members, local municipality members, general branch leaders, party members, supporters, and partners - let us strengthen our determination to do the work that only we can do. Only by mobilizing such actions and determination can the CDP move forward as a party worthy of the people's trust, and be recognized as an option for government.

■ Forming a New Government

Our vision of the new society is already being shared. In his heartwarming speech, Japanese Trade Union Confederation (RENGO) President Kozu mentioned that on September 17 last year, the CDP and RENGO confirmed the "Shared Philosophy: Creating a 'New Normal' to Protect Lives and Livelihoods.” Our philosophy and the vision of the society we aim for is shared with our worker partners.

We will change the outdated politics that only emphasizes competition and self-responsibility, as revealed by the COVID-19 crisis. We will improve basic services such as health care, nursing, child raising and education. We will restore stable employment where people can become regular employees if they wish. We will reduce uncertainty about the future to stimulate domestic demand and achieve stable economic growth. We will contribute to the global community by promoting a nation of decentralized, renewable energy and revitalizing local economies.

And we will build a functioning government that can realize these goals. A government that can support people's livelihoods, especially in times of crisis.

Let us make sure to realize a ‘society where no one is left behind,’ which is sustainable, inclusive and rooted in diversity.

In order to fulfill this historic mission, I am determined that we will become an option for government in the general election to be held this year, and to work together with many citizens to overthrow the LDP-Komeito government and form a new government led by the CDP.

First of all, we will create a concept of government that is based on our philosophy and vision for society, and embodies the policies that need to be implemented now. I will take the lead in appealing to a wide range of voters in the run-up to the general election, in collaboration with the many people who endorse our vision.

To the total of 152 National Diet members, 1,130 local government councillors and general branch leaders across the country. And to all of our party members, supporters and partners. We, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, exist at this moment as the major opposition party. Let us together take on this historic mission to form a new government.                        

■ Conclusion

“We will protect the lives and livelihoods of the people at all times. We will create a government capable of protecting these lives and livelihoods.” 

In this critical situation, and at this historic turning point, this is our course of action. 

From self-responsibility to mutual support. For a "Zero COVID" Japan. To a politics for the people. To being an option for government. We will form a new government, and together with the people, overcome this crisis. 

This is my message to you on the occasion of this Party Convention. I pledge to share this determination with you all, and move forward together. Let us all work together.