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Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009
Ailing New Komeito taps policy chief as new boss
By MASAMI ITO
New Komeito, still reeling from its losses in the Aug. 30 election, including the failure of its president and secretary general to win re-election, named policy chief Natsuo Yamaguchi as its new leader Monday.
Yamaguchi's appointment as president will be officially approved Tuesday when New Komeito's lawmakers and local chapters meet.
"I want to devote myself to rebuilding the party," Yamaguchi, 57, said. "I believe that all of us Diet members in the party are ready to cooperate and become mighty warriors. I humbly hold everyone's expectations and am ready to do my best."
Yamaguchi refused to reveal others in his new leadership lineup before Tuesday, but it is expected that Yoshihisa Inoue, director of New Komeito's electoral policy committee, will be chosen as secretary general, departing Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito as policy chief and Yoshio Urushibara will remain the party's Diet affairs chief.
Taking a pounding along with its partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito lost 10 seats, including in all eight of its single-seat districts. President Akihiro Ota and Secretary General Kazuo Kitagawa were among the defeated. The two parties tumbled after about 10 years of partnership.
Analysts say they expect New Komeito to travel an independent route for a while, but Yamaguchi refused to comment in detail.
"We must firmly review the election . . . and based on that, we must rebuild the party that let its leader and secretary general lose their Diet seats," Yamaguchi said. "What kind of relationship we plan on forming with other parties is a task for the future."
New Komeito lawmakers say the party has some common policy ground with the Democratic Party of Japan, but Yamaguchi said New Komeito will wait and see what kind of government the DPJ has in mind before deciding its future action.
"It is now the task of the DPJ to build a new system. I want to ascertain its nature" before reaching a decision, Yamaguchi said. "We will also consider whether to take a confrontational attitude" toward the DPJ.
Originally from Ibaraki Prefecture, Yamaguchi is serving his second term as an Upper House lawmaker. Previously, he served two terms in the Lower House, in 1990 and 1993.
A University of Tokyo graduate, Yamaguchi was a certified lawyer before jumping into politics. Often cited as an expert on policies and a controversialist, he has been the party's policy chief since August 2008.
In choosing Yamaguchi, New Komeito members said they value his "fresh image," his knowledge of policies and his ability to wage battle with words.