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Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008

Watanabe vies for change

Renegade vote for opposition's election motion draws LDP rebuke

Staff writer

A snap election is the most effective way to clear the "sense of stagnation" prevailing in Japan, Lower House reformist Yoshimi Watanabe of the Liberal Democratic Party told The Japan Times after voting Wednesday for an opposition resolution to this end.

News photo
Against the grain: Yoshimi Watanabe, a Lower House member from the Liberal Democratic Party, is interviewed Wednesday after voting for an opposition-proposed resolution to dissolve the Lower House for a general election. SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO

In an interview following his renegade vote, the former minister of administrative reform did not say he would leave the LDP in a bid to form a new party. But he did say the chance of that happening was "not zero" and that he wants to be a "catalyst for political realignment."

The nonbinding resolution, submitted by the opposition-leading Democratic Party of Japan, was voted down by the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc, which dominates the chamber. Watanabe was later reprimanded by the LDP for his action.

Watanabe said Prime Minister Taro Aso has failed to fulfill the role he was expected to play after taking office — to dissolve the Lower House and call an election.

"A general election is a ritual of regeneration" in politics, Watanabe said. "I have been saying this, so I would have submitted the bill by myself before the opposition did, if only one person was allowed to do that."

Aso has repeatedly snubbed calls for a dissolution since taking office in September, weakening both his influence and his party's support ratings, he added.

People also are discontent with Aso's Cabinet, Watanabe said, because it has no control over the bureaucrats and offers no electoral process for the public to express its opinions, intensifying the sense of stagnation.

Before he was reprimanded Wednesday, Watanabe said he would accept any punishment for expressing his views, including expulsion from the ruling party.

He has been railing against his party in recent months by criticizing the Cabinet for taking ineffective steps to deal with the recession and the global financial crisis. As one example, he has said the Cabinet should have submitted the second extra budget during the extraordinary Diet session that ends Thursday instead of next month.

"Despite this emergency situation, the prime minister, who is supposed to be in control, is being inconsistent (with his policies)," he said.

Aso has been flip-flopping over various policy matters, including the cash-handout economic stimulus.

The program, under which each person legally residing in Japan is to get ¥12,000 or ¥20,000, has been a lightning rod for controversy because Aso waffled on who would be eligible for the handouts.

Given the seriousness of the global meltdown, some corners are urging the formation of a "grand coalition" to weather the crisis after shaking things up with a general election.

And Watanabe would advocate such a coalition.

"In a situation like this, there are no ruling or opposition parties," he said.

Watanabe said he wouldn't voluntarily leave the LDP and would keep challenging the old guard by presenting an agenda for creating a government capable of managing in tough times.

"I think there must be many people who share the same sense of crisis in the LDP and the Diet. I'd like to cooperate with them," he said.

Watanabe wouldn't name his cohorts but said he has been communicating with them periodically. And the chances of them forming a new party is "not zero," he added.

Watanabe's father, the late Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe, also went against the LDP grain. At one time he planned to form a new party, but gave up.

His son might not go so easy. Touching on the chances of a regime change happening after the general election that must be held before September, Watanabe said: "A realignment will definitely happen."

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The Japan Times

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