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Friday, Aug. 6, 1999

New Komeito up for tieup, Liberals or no

Staff writer

New Komeito will not change its plan to launch coalition talks with the Liberal Democratic Party even if the LDP's junior partner, the Liberal Party, pulls out of the ruling alliance, New Komeito chief Takenori Kanzaki said Friday.

"Even if the Liberal Party leaves the coalition, our basic policy to join hands with the LDP will not change," Kanzaki said in an interview with The Japan Times, citing the decision reached at the party's July 24 convention.

The Liberal Party is threatening to pull out of the alliance over the LDP's handling of pending legislation to cut Lower House seats, which is being pushed by the Liberals but strongly opposed by New Komeito.

Kanzaki also said that it would be difficult for New Komeito to support some Liberal Party members in the next Lower House elections -- as it did in the previous elections -- if the Liberals fail to join the new coalition.

He added, however, that he does not believe the Liberal Party will pull out.

The Liberals have threatened to leave the coalition if a bill that calls for slashing 50 proportional representation seats in the Lower House fails to clear the chamber during the current session, which ends next Friday.

New Komeito, the No. 2 opposition party, plans to join the coalition once it and the LDP reach agreement on basic policy matters. But the bill has been a barrier to progress because most of the party's Lower House seats come from proportional representation.

The LDP and Liberal Party, on the other hand, agreed on the bill in January as one of the preconditions to forming the current ruling alliance.

New Komeito's resistance had kept the bill in check since it was submitted to the Diet more than a month ago.

With only a week left during the current Diet session, the LDP is seeking a compromise on the bill that can be accepted by both New Komeito and the Liberal Party.

Kanzaki, however, said that if the two ruling parties force a vote on the bill, it would jeopardize New Komeito's upcoming talks on entering the coalition.

"If New Komeito joins the ruling bloc and the Liberal Party becomes an opposition force," Kanzaki said, "it would be difficult for New Komeito to support the Liberal Party as it has done before."

In the previous elections, in 1996, most members of both New Komeito and the Liberal Party belonged to the now defunct Shinshinto. New Komeito's main supporter, Soka Gakkai, the nation's largest lay Buddhist organization, was said to have fully mobilized its vote-gathering mechanism for Shinshinto.

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The Japan Times

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