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Friday, July 17, 2009
Aso foes unlikely to block dissolution
Petition by third of LDP seeking ouster appears destined to fail
By MASAMI ITO
Moves by lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to remove Prime Minister Taro Aso as LDP president looked doomed Thursday because it appeared they will be unable to prevent him from dissolving the Lower House early next week.
Aso's foes in the LDP wanted an emergency meeting convened Friday to decide his fate, but party executives instead decided to possibly convene just a general gathering Tuesday to allow Aso to directly spell out his views on why the long-ruling party's public support is plummeting. Aso has called for the Lower House's dissolution, possibly the same day.
The prime minister told reporters earlier Thursday that if some sort of meeting is called, he would willingly attend and explain his thoughts to his colleagues.
"I have no intention of running away or turning a deaf ear to" the opinions of LDP members, Aso said.
The LDP's internal strife widened Thursday morning as lawmakers submitted 133 signatures to party executives, urging them to call for the Joint Plenary Meeting of Party Members of Both Houses of the Diet. If two-thirds of the party attended and a majority wanted to hold a presidential poll, they could theoretically install a new leader. But that formal meeting appears to not be in the cards.
The petition, collected by prominent members involved in the movement to oust Aso, including former Secretaries General Hidenao Nakagawa and Tsutomu Takebe, included two members of the Aso Cabinet — Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano and Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Shigeru Ishiba.
The aim of the petition was, in pretext, to hold the key party panel so Aso can review and analyze the party's crushing defeat in Sunday's Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly poll before the general election he scheduled for Aug. 30.
"We submitted the necessary documents to hold the joint plenary meeting of party members of both houses of the Diet as soon as possible," Nakagawa said Thursday.
"We must humbly accept the results of the local elections, including the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race and (hold the meeting) to review the causes of the defeat, as well as to have a comprehensive discussion on rebuilding the party before the upcoming Lower House general election," he said.
At the same briefing, Takebe, another central figure in the anti-Aso camp, effectively urged Aso to step down as LDP leader. "I demand that the president make an honorable decision," he said.
In response, LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda stopped short of saying he would "urgently consider" holding the meeting.
As Aso plans to dissolve the Lower House next week, the only option for holding such a meeting was Friday, but this appeared unlikely.
A top official said LDP executives were worried that holding the meeting would be disastrous because voices both for and against Aso's ouster will be brought in sharp relief.
"The LDP executives said holding such a meeting would only reduce the number of seats in the Diet," a top government official said on condition of anonymity. "And I don't think it is right to expose the prime minister in such a way."
To hold the decision-making meeting, there need to be 128 signatures, or one-third of the 384 LDP lawmakers.
Although Nakagawa and his colleagues gathered 133 signatures, the petition triggered even more turmoil later because it was interpreted in various ways by the signatories.
Some who signed it started saying they only wanted to hold a meeting to "hear Aso's opinion" on the situation, while others said they want to grill their unpopular leader and hold him responsible.
If some signatories retract their earlier decisions, the signatures could drop below the threshold of 128.
One LDP member whose name was on the petition even claimed he had not signed it in the first place.
Yoshio Yatsu said somebody used his name without permission and had it removed later Thursday. "I never signed my name nor said someone could sign on my behalf," he said. "I talked to a key person and said he had to be kidding."
Aso and his aides appeared unmoved by the petition.
"The prime minister has already expressed his intention," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura. "I don't think the prime minister would change his basic way of thinking."
Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru said Thursday he has decided not to run in the upcoming general election.
The popular TV celebrity-turned-governor was asked by the beleaguered Liberal Democratic Party to run on its ticket in the Aug. 30 poll, prompting him to set certain conditions, including a controversial proposal for listing him as a candidate for LDP president.
In a news conference in Miyazaki Prefecture, Higashikokubaru said he has decided not to run because he received a letter from the LDP and learned the party had failed to meet the conditions he set on the decentralization of power to local governments.
The letter was sent by Makoto Koga, an LDP heavyweight in charge of the party's election strategy, he said.
The governor said that in the same letter, Koga promised to include his proposals on the subject as much as possible in the party's policy platform that will be unveiled soon for the upcoming general election.