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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006

'07 Upper House election may decide all, new LDP secretary general says

Staff writer

Hidenao Nakagawa, new secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, is already gearing up for next summer's Upper House poll.

News photo
Hidenao Nakagawa KYODO PHOTO

The election outcome could determine whether the public wants Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to continue governing or whether Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa should take over, Nakagawa said in an interview.

"In a two-party system, there is no neutrality -- it is up to the public to choose either Abe or Ozawa," he said.

Analysts have said the LDP may struggle in the Upper House race against the Ozawa-led DPJ, although the LDP holds a comfortable majority in the Lower House, and thus decides who becomes prime minister, regardless of how it fares in an Upper House poll.

"I have not thought about who will take responsibility" if the LDP loses, Nakagawa said. "We will decide when we have the results. . . . Right now, our focus is to win as many seats as possible."

For Nakagawa, to be named LDP secretary general -- second in command of the party -- means a major comeback to center stage.

In July 2000, he was picked as chief Cabinet secretary by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori but resigned that October over reports of an extramarital affair and links with a senior member of a rightwing group.

Nakagawa, however, filed a lawsuit against Shinchosha Co., publisher of the magazine that carried the reports, for defamation of character. Both the Hiroshima district and high courts ruled in his favor, but the publisher has appealed and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

Since then, Nakagawa held two key party posts -- head of the Diet Affairs Committee and chairman of the Policy Research Council -- under Abe's predecessor as both prime minister and LDP president, Junichiro Koizumi.

And now, one major task he faces as secretary general is to make sure LDP candidates prevail in the next Upper House election, at least maintain the majority the party holds in the chamber with its ruling bloc junior partner, New Komeito.

In September, Abe expressed his intention to consider replacing some candidates for the House of Councilors election if that's what it takes to win, triggering anger from some LDP Upper House lawmakers.

"I think it is necessary to examine and verify" whether candidates are qualified, Nakagawa said, backing Abe's plan.

He added he would consider the return of the "postal reform rebels" ousted from the LDP last year for opposing Koizumi's postal privatization drive.

"It would not be justifiable if they want to modify or scrap the (postal reform law) because it was the public that chose to privatize the postal services," Nakagawa said. But "if (they) intend to cooperate with Abe's pledge and policies . . . it is an issue to consider."

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