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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008

Fukuda gives LDP apology for quick exit

Party execs draw heat over voting process


Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told his fellow Liberal Democratic Party members in the Diet on Wednesday he was sorry about his surprise decision to step down earlier this week.

"I would like to apologize to everyone for not being able to live up to your expectations," Fukuda said at a meeting for all LDP Diet members at party headquarters in Tokyo. "I came to this rational conclusion after thoroughly considering factors like the current situation of the government, the trend of public opinion and the outlook for the next Diet session."

The meeting was the first time that Fukuda, the LDP president, has spoken with his party since making Monday's surprise announcement. Once again, he explained it would be better for a new leader to take over to break the deadlock in the Diet by engaging the opposition parties, which control the Upper House.

Fukuda also said he had one final wish — that the LDP hold a genuine presidential election.

"The LDP is full of talented people and is a reform-minded party that holds free and vigorous policy debates and makes bold changes in policies," Fukuda said. "The presidential election is about to begin and I am hoping that it will excite the public and that you will show everyone the LDP is full of energy."

At the meeting, the head of the presidential election committee said the vote would take place Sept. 22. LDP Secretary General Taro Aso is set to officially announce his candidacy and unveil his policy platform Monday.

Other names, including former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike and Nobuteru Ishihara, the son of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, have also been floated.

When the floor was freed up for questions from the lawmakers, no one directly criticized Fukuda for abandoning his post. Instead, many complained about the party's top executives and the way they decided to conduct the vote.

The LDP president normally serves a three-year term. When it runs out, each Diet member of the party gets one vote for the election, while 300 others are distributed to the party's prefectural chapters, which get votes in proportion to their size.

But in light of the suddenness of Fukuda's resignation, the LDP decided to simplify the election by giving only 141 votes to the prefectural representatives, or three votes per prefecture. The LDP's Diet members will get one vote each as usual, or 387 ballots.

This method was the same one the party used last year when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suddenly quit.

"The LDP is in an extremely critical situation, with two of our party leaders and prime ministers resigning out of the blue," former Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono said. "We should have a presidential election in which the 300 votes are given to the local chapters, not just three votes per prefecture."

Giving more votes to the chapters would better reflect the party members' voices. In last year's race, Aso was favored by many of the local members but eclipsed by votes from the Diet members, more of whom backed Fukuda.

Yoshihiro Seki, a Lower House member from Hyogo Prefecture, also slammed the voting process, saying the LDP needs new voting rules.

"I believe the public's anger and distrust against politics is as strong as the force of nature," Seki said. "What the LDP needs to do now is to change its old ways. . . . If we cannot create a new LDP, (the party) will be destroyed."



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