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Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

Komeito re-elects Ota, renews ties with LDP

Staff writer

New Komeito re-elected Akihiro Ota as its leader Tuesday, marking the start of a new partnership with Liberal Democratic Party President Taro Aso.

After winning the race unopposed, Ota kept Kazuo Kitagawa as the party's secretary general for a second term. He also retained other key party executives, including policy chief Natsuo Yamaguchi.

During the party's convention in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, Ota addressed the difficult situation the ruling bloc has been facing in the divided Diet.

"Japan must find a way out of the difficulties, and I am strongly determined to win the Lower House general election for the future of Japan," Ota said. "Now is the time to fight and I would like to gather maximum strength, and together with the public, I would like to start aiming for victory."

Aso, elected LDP president on Monday, made an appearance at the convention and apologized to members of New Komeito over Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's abrupt resignation announcement on Sept. 1.

"We have caused a great deal of concern for our partner New Komeito over Fukuda's sudden announcement to resign, which came during the current economic situation and before the upcoming extraordinary Diet session," Aso said. "I would like to make a heartfelt apology."

With the next general election expected within the next couple of months, critics have pointed out that keeping New Komeito from straying will be a must for the LDP because of the steady support it has from Soka Gakkai, the largest lay Buddhist organization in Japan.

Aso played up the strong ties between the two parties.

"We have moved forward together for (almost) 10 years," Aso said. "By stating what we need to state, I think that we must create an even stronger and more mature relationship on top of the trusting relationship we have already built."

Later Tuesday, Aso and Ota signed an agreement over 19 basic policies for the ruling coalition.

The paper includes executing the planned economic emergency stimulus package; reviewing the unpopular health care program for people aged 75 and older; freeing up road-related tax revenues starting in fiscal 2009; and having the Maritime Self-Defense Force continue refueling multinational warships engaged in counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the ruling bloc's fresh start, one thorny issue remains — whether to ram the extension of the MSDF refueling mission through the divided Diet.

The opposition camp led by the Democratic Party of Japan has repeatedly stressed its intention to oppose the bill, while New Komeito, for which world peace is its basic philosophy, had expressed reluctance to force the bill through the Diet.

The party does not want to be seen as actively in support of sending Japanese troops to conflict areas overseas, regardless of the legitimacy of the mission.

But Ota briefly mentioned Tuesday that extending the antiterrorism law is necessary and that he would seek the public's understanding.

"Contributing to antiterrorism measures is important," Ota said. "International society has high hopes for Japan's refueling mission, which is contributing to ensuring the safety of shipping traffic."

Ota was first elected party president in 2006 after Takenori Kanzaki led the party for eight years. The LDP-New Komeito coalition was forged in 1999 under the leadership of Kanzaki and then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

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The Japan Times

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