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Thursday, July 12, 2007


Komeito to stay firmly in coalition camp

But Ota says party differs with LDP on preserving pacifist Constitution

Staff writer

For New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota, the priority in the July 29 election is maintaining the ruling bloc's control of the Upper House, but he won't say if he will resign if the coalition falls short.

News photo
Akihiro Ota

Ichiro Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, has declared that not only will he step down as party president if the opposition camp as a whole doesn't win a majority, he will retire from politics when his Lower House term is up.

Ota and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Liberal Democratic Party president, have so far refused to put themselves on the line.

"I believe that my responsibility as leader (of New Komeito) is to win at least 13 seats," Ota said in a recent interview. "I would like to narrow it down to this one (objective) and fulfill my responsibilities."

New Komeito will back 22 candidates in the election.

The junior member in its partnership with the LDP, New Komeito currently has 23 seats in the Upper House, including 12 up for election. Ota stressed the bottom line is that the ruling bloc needs to win at least 64 seats in total to maintain its majority. If New Komeito matches Ota's goal of winning 13, the LDP will need to take 51.

The coalition faces an uphill fight. With various scandals and problems, the support rate for Abe's Cabinet has dropped drastically. A recent Kyodo News survey showed the support rate has plummeted to 32 percent from 65 percent in September when the Cabinet was formed.

Analysts have repeatedly predicted that July 29 will be a tough day for the ruling bloc and that it is at risk of losing its majority in the chamber.

"This election is a campaign in which the public will hand down a judgment on important state politics," Ota said. Even so, he has no intention of breaking up the coalition if the ruling bloc loses.

This is despite the controversy over ex-Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma's recent statement that the U.S. atomic bombings "couldn't be helped." For New Komeito — solidly backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest lay Buddhist organization and a bastion of pacifism — the comment was disastrous and triggered much criticism from party ranks.

"Our party believes that one person's life is absolute and a nuclear (weapon) of mass destruction that robs (people of life) is absolutely evil," Ota said. "Based on (the position) that each person's life is important, (Kyuma's words stating that the bombings) 'couldn't be helped' is inconceivable."

The debate over constitutional revision, especially regarding the war-renouncing Article 9, is another major issue for New Komeito.

While the LDP wants to completely rewrite the Constitution, including Article 9, New Komeito argues for maintaining the current clauses but making some additions that would reflect the times, such as on the environment and privacy rights

New Komeito "considers the current Constitution to be pre-eminent," Ota said.

The language in Article 9 renouncing war and the threat or use of force should not be changed, he said. Instead, New Komeito is discussing whether to advocate additional clauses to the article that would clarify the role of the Self-Defense Forces, possibly including participation in international peacekeeping.

Regarding the scandal over farm minister Norihiko Akagi, who has denied any accounting improprieties by a support group in Ibaraki Prefecture but has refused to disclose details to back up his claim, Ota said he should keep explaining his position to dispel any doubts the public might have.

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