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Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007

DPJ misses chance to come to the fore

Staff writer

Last Friday when Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, entertained a possible grand coalition, this sent shock waves through the political world only to be superseded by the chaos in the wake of Ozawa's abrupt offer Sunday to quit his party's helm.

Up to last week, the DPJ had been on a roll, gaining political strength and repeatedly pushing Fukuda to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election as soon as possible. But now, political analysts think the DPJ's weakened state has foreclosed on this scenario.

The analysts agree Ozawa's mere consideration of joining hands with the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc and his offer to quit as DPJ chief after his colleagues scotched the coalition overture have severely damaged the DPJ's image as the largest opposition force.

The later the election, "the more convenient it is for the LDP because it could spend those days regaining popularity and (erasing its) scandals," said Hidekazu Kawai, a professor of political science at Chubu University. "Meanwhile, the DPJ would be struggling to resolve its internal troubles."

Ever since Ozawa became leader of the DPJ in April 2006, he has been stressing the need for a change in power. Throughout postwar history, the LDP has governed Japan virtually uninterrupted.

With the DPJ-led opposition's landslide victory in July's Upper House election, however, Kawai said he thought Japan had been close to realizing a change in power, with the DPJ eventually taking control.

"For the first time, Japan was the closest it has ever been to achieving a change in political power in a two-party system," Kawai said. "But now, the possibility (of a change in power) is far away."

Fukuda had been backed into a corner by a divided Diet — with the ruling bloc holding a majority in the Lower House while the DPJ-led opposition controls the Upper House.

Last week's grand coalition proposal was seen a last-ditch effort by Fukuda to break the current stalemate in the Diet.

The coalition overture was made Friday behind closed doors. Ozawa told reporters Sunday that Fukuda had promised a full security-policy reversal to heed Ozawa's longtime call that any Self-Defense Forces dispatch only be permitted when officially U.N. authorized.

Asked which side proposed the idea of forming a grand coalition during the talks, Fukuda told reporters Monday: "The topic of a coalition wouldn't have come up if both (Ozawa and I) hadn't considered it . . . It was perfect timing."

But if the DPJ accepts Ozawa's resignation and picks a new leader, Fukuda said the idea of a coalition "is finished."

With the extraordinary Diet session due to close its doors Saturday, time is running out for Fukuda and the LDP.

Even though the ruling bloc is set to vote on the bill to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Indian Ocean refueling mission this week in the Lower House, government sources and political analysts say there is no way now but to extend the session.

Fukuda therefore Monday instructed LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki to begin coordinating with the DPJ to extend the session to get the so-called special antiterrorism bill passed.

The ruling coalition is reportedly mulling the extension of three to four weeks, but with the divided Diet, whether it would be enough to pass the bill is still uncertain.

MSDF mission

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda on Monday denied Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa's claim that the prime minister had said during their one-on-one talks that he would not dwell on the passage of a bill to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean if the main opposition party agreed to join the governing coalition.

"We want the new antiterrorism law passed somehow. And we very much would like to do the refueling activities in the Indian Ocean as part of international cooperation. I have consistently maintained that idea," Fukuda told reporters Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said separately, "I find it hard to comprehend that Mr. Ozawa understood (the prime minister as saying he) will not dwell on the passage of the bill.

"Without thinking about the passage of the bill, there would have been no point in holding the talks between party leaders at this time," Machimura told reporters.

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The Japan Times

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