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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

Postal rebels vow to follow party line for LDP return

Staff writer

Eleven of a group of 12 lawmakers kicked out of the Liberal Democratic Party last year for opposing postal privatization submitted a petition and special covenant Monday and are likely to be readmitted to the ruling party.

News photo
Takeo Hiranuma KYODO PHOTO

Takeo Hiranuma, however, refused to sign the covenant, which included a vow to follow the LDP's campaign pledges -- specifically postal privatization. His readmission is expected to be rejected.

The covenant assures the LDP leadership that the exiled lawmakers will adhere to all conditions set out for their return. It also states that they will engage in serious soul-searching for the hostile activities they conducted against LDP candidates in the 2005 general election.

Hiranuma, a former trade minister who ran successfully as an independent from Okayama Prefecture, termed the covenant "humiliating."

Last year 37 LDP members in the Lower House voted against the government-sponsored postal privatization bill and were subsequently ousted from the party by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who refused to let them run on the LDP tickets for the general election.

Of the 37, 13 ran successfully as independents and 12 of them, including Hiranuma, agreed to join the petition-submitting group.

"I told (the other 11) that I will stay true to my principles and that I am firmly against this vow," Hiranuma said at a news conference after the requests were submitted.

Whether to let the "postal reform rebels" back into the fold has divided the ranks of the ruling party as well as some of its senior members.

Koizumi categorically criticized all of the 37 rebels as "antireformers" before the election. His decisive tactics won the sympathy of many voters and contributed to the party's landslide win.

But some senior Upper House members are campaigning to get all of the 12 readmitted, including Hiranuma. They say the support of the rebels, who boast strong support groups in their home districts, will be needed for the LDP to win the Upper House election next summer.

On the other hand, the 82 LDP freshmen who entered the Diet on the strength of their criticism of the rebels remain strongly opposed.

Indeed, polls show that most voters are displeased with the apparent inconsistency in the LDP's leadership attitude toward the postal rebels.

A Kyodo News survey released Sunday found that nearly 60 percent of respondents expressed objections to the LDP's move to readmit the postal rebels.

"I am well aware of results of opinion polls," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday evening.

"I'd like (the 11) to fully show their ability and win understanding of the people," Abe said.

Opposition parties immediately slammed the LDP leadership for being ready to accept the return of the former rebels, describing it as an insult to voters.

"Some people will think anything goes for the LDP as long as it helps win the Upper House election," Tadayoshi Ichida, secretary general of the Japanese Communist Party, said.

In September 2005, Koizumi placed high-profile celebrity candidates, dubbed "assassins," to run against the postal rebels in the election. To take them back now would put the new lawmakers in an awkward position.

The antirebel organization, which will be open to all LDP lawmakers, is expected to come together Tuesday.

During an extraordinary Diet session last year, the postal reform bill was resubmitted and approved by a majority of the House of Representatives, including the 11 rebels. Hiranuma refused to budge and again voted against the bill.

Last week, LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa told Hiranuma that if the postal rebels want back in, they would have to submit a vow clarifying they will follow the party's campaign pledges, obey party rules and express regret for their "antiparty activity."

"The LDP is about liberalism and democracy, but through this 'vow' it has taken on the form of a dictatorship," Hiranuma said Monday.

But Hiranuma, a 25-year veteran of the party, said he would still support the LDP in the Upper House election unless something drastic occurs.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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