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Friday, Dec. 4, 1998

LDP-Liberal Party rift grows


By SAYURI DAIMON and ASAKO MURAKAMI

Staff writers

For someone trying to break off an engagement, breach of promise can be very costly.

Although the Liberal Democratic Party may have initially intended to bolster its power and create a more stable government by allying with the Liberal Party, it may find itself walking a tightrope.

Despite the Nov. 19 accord between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, the LDP president, and Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa to launch a coalition government before the next ordinary Diet session starts in January, some political observers say the agreement appears fragile, and the Obuchi government could be toppled if it fails.

"If our alliance agreement is canceled, we will try to smash them (the LDP). Unlike breaking an engagement, in which compensation money is required, the government itself will be at stake," said a senior Liberal Party member who declined to be identified.

In addition to various policy differences between the two parties, greater complications stem from strong hostile feelings many LDP members hold toward Ozawa, who led a group of defectors from the party in 1993, resulting in the end of the LDP's 38-year power monopoly.

During the last extraordinary Diet session, the LDP was forced to make drastic compromises with the opposition camp due to its minority standing in the House of Councilors, and the fear of such political instability has sparked the LDP to link with its former foes.

The alliance with the LDP would provide the Liberal Party, the fourth-largest opposition party, with a great opportunity, since it would be linked with the ruling power.

After bolting from the LDP, Ozawa created Shinseito with his fellow defectors, and then formed Shinshinto in December 1994 by merging nine opposition parties. However, Ozawa dissolved Shinshinto last December and created the Liberal Party in January.

"If the Liberal Party joins the ruling camp, it will be able to easily collect funds and (gain) information that is whispered only to politicians in the ruling camp, and the attitudes of bureaucrats will completely change. That's why they are so desperate to be in a coalition government," said Seiichi Tagawa, former leader of the now-defunct New Liberal Club, which in 1976 was established by defectors from the LDP, like Ozawa's Liberal Party.

Facing the same decline in support as the Liberal Party, Tagawa's New Liberal Club in 1983 set up a coalition government with the LDP under then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. But it disbanded in 1986, and all members of the party except Tagawa returned to the LDP.

"The LDP has a wide variety of members, and they have different thoughts regarding key policies ... Even if they can cooperate with the Liberal Party, each time policy differences emerge, the party will be shaken from the inside, and this instability eventually will weaken the ruling party against the opposition camp," he said.

The prenuptial romance already seems to have ended, as a rift between the two parties has grown.

LDP executives have been increasingly more cautious about cooperating with the Liberal Party and providing its new ally with Cabinet posts.

While LDP executives are trying to delay the timing of the next Cabinet reshuffle, Liberal Party members expect to gain some ministerial posts before the regular Diet session opens in January.



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