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Thursday, Feb. 11, 1999

New Komeito key player in Tokyo election


Staff writer

Now that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the largest opposition Democratic Party of Japan have picked their candidates for the Tokyo gubernatorial election in April, the two parties are waiting with bated breath to see where New Komeito will direct its support.

On Thursday, the LDP made a formal request asking former U.N. Undersecretary General Yasushi Akashi, 68, to run in the race, while DPJ Vice President Kunio Hatoyama, who is expected to formally announce his candidacy today, is sure to have his party's full support.

To snatch control of the nation's capital, the LDP and the DPJ seem desperate to gain New Komeito's backing because its biggest supporter — Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization — is believed to control nearly 800,000 faithful voters in Tokyo. New Komeito has no plans to field its own candidate.

Both the LDP and the DPJ are also hoping that cooperation with New Komeito and a victory in Tokyo will lead to stronger ties with the party at the national level.

The LDP's ruling coalition with the Liberal Party is still short of a majority in the Upper House of the Diet. For the DPJ, New Komeito is an indispensable ally in its attempt to put up a united opposition against the LDP.

New Komeito, the second-largest opposition force in the Diet with 52 seats in the Lower House and 24 in the Upper House, is currently sitting on the fence between the ruling and the opposition camps in the Diet.

The choice is not an easy one for New Komeito, as it is torn between two conflicting interests. While its Tokyo chapter hopes to maintain its longtime bonds with the LDP in the metropolitan assembly, the party needs to take an anti-LDP posture in other local elections slated for April.

Clearly siding with one party may put New Komeito in a risky position either way. To avoid hurting ties with either the LDP or the DPJ, New Komeito may take a neutral stance and let its supporters vote independently in the Tokyo race.



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