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Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2006
11 postal reform foes get nod to rejoin LDP, justify flip-flop
By MASAMI ITO
The 11 postal reform rebels Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is welcoming back into the ruling Liberal Democratic Party spoke Tuesday about why they voted against the legislation and then reversed themselves.
They were among 37 LDP members who last year helped vote down the reform bill during Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's term, leading him to call a snap election for Sept. 11, 2005, and eject them from party.
The lawmakers, now independents, claimed they never really opposed privatizing Japan Post.
"I was basically not against the privatization," Shunichi Yamaguchi told a morning news conference, saying he only opposed what he termed the rough way the bill was handled by the party. "But after seeing public opinion (strongly in favor of privatization), I voted for the bill."
In summer 2005, Koizumi pushed the LDP to back his bill to establish the reorganization of the massive postal organization despite strong opposition. The 37 LDP lawmakers rebelled and voted against the bill in the House of Representatives, killing the measure. Koizumi immediately dissolved the chamber and called the general election to try to get a bigger majority.
He then kicked the 37 out of the LDP and said the party would not back them in the September election. Those who ran as independents, including the 11 now seeking to get back into the LDP fold, had to face off against Koizumi-appointed "assassin candidates." These candidates were not in the LDP at the time but in general were high-profile celebrities.
"I felt as if I was forcefully stripped of my citizenship," said Mitsuo Horiuchi, one of the ex-LDP lawmakers. "It makes me happy to hear that (I) can rejoin."
After the 11 won as independents, they voted for the legislation, which was resubmitted to an extraordinary Diet session held after the election. The law was enacted.
The LDP Party Ethics Committee will hold a meeting next week to formalize the lawmakers' readmittance.
Yamaguchi told reporters he felt strange being separated from the party.
"I was told that I would be kicked out if I didn't leave the party, so I did," Yamaguchi said. "It has felt strange since then . . . but my desire to return to the LDP remained strong."
Later in the day, another rebel, former postal minister Seiko Noda, told reporters how she has struggled as an independent in the Diet.
"I was all on my own," Noda said. "Strict rules kept me from participating in the committees I wanted to join or from asking questions in the committees, and I regret that I may not have been able to fulfill my duties as a Diet member."
The news of the lawmakers' impending return, however, is bothering some party members, particularly the new LDP lawmakers who beat out rebels in the last election.
Disgruntled LDP lawmakers launched a group Tuesday to oppose the readmissions.
"This is a problem because how does (the LDP) expect the public to understand (the rebel's readmission) when its own party members do not?" said Koichi Yamauchi, a freshman lawmaker in the group.
According to the group's prospectus, "readmitting (the rebels) without the public's agreement and understanding could lead to (public) distrust of the LDP and by the same token, politics in general."