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Sunday, April 11, 2010

ANALYSIS

New party a boon to DPJ, thorn in divided LDP's side


Staff writer

Saturday's launch of marginal political party Tachiagare Nippon (The Sunrise Party of Japan) by former members of the Liberal Democratic Party has only accelerated the main opposition's downward spiral as lawmakers gear up for an Upper House election in July.

News photo
Big ambitions: Tachiagare Nippon (The Sunrise Party of Japan) head Takeo Hiranuma speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Saturday, as party coleader Kaoru Yosano looks on. KYODO PHOTO

Even so, analysts say it's highly unlikely the new party will cause a major political realignment at this point.

"The launch of Tachiagare Nippon only damages the LDP and its reputation. Other than that it has no impact," noted political analyst Minoru Morita.

Tachiagare Nippon remains a nonfactor in terms of size, attracting only five lawmakers in time for Saturday's kickoff.

"The party lacks the three most important aspects needed to become a genuine force, which are political vision, specific policy and a fresh face," Morita added.

Despite its splashy start, the party faces countless hurdles to attract voters.

Yosano himself lost to the Democratic Party of Japan's Banri Kaieda in last summer's Lower House election, barely managing to keep his seat through the proportional representation system.

While the 71-year-old veteran may be an expert on finance and government policies, he has also been criticized by some for lacking vigor, especially after undergoing larynx cancer surgery in 2006.

At 70, Takeo Hiranuma, the new party's president, only adds to concern that retirement is imminent for the quintet.

Furthermore, the pair have different political agendas.

With his focus on reducing the growing government debt, Yosano is a strong advocate of raising the consumption tax.

Hiranuma's career, meanwhile, is highlighted by his conservative remarks on history and foreign affairs.

In 2005, Yosano helped draft the postal privatization bill for the LDP, while Hiranuma was expelled from the party for opposing it.

Asked if there is any chance the government might collaborate with Tachiagare Nippon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano responded that he hasn't been able to decide what to make of the new group.

"Its not clear what they intend to do, and how," the top government spokesman said last week, adding that the Cabinet is not likely to join forces with the quintet.

Meanwhile, DPJ veteran Kozo Watanabe expressed optimism over the launch of Tachiagare Nippon, saying the lack of LDP unity favors the administration.

The mishandling of political donations involving DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama "have been an issue I have had to worry about," the veteran Watanabe said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan last Wednesday.

"But developments over the past week gave me confidence that Ozawa does not need to step down" for the DPJ to win July's House of Councilors vote, he said.

Under the circumstances, analysts say Tachiagare Nippon could possibly affect the Upper House election by luring independent voters displeased with both the LDP and DPJ.

While the LDP has been in free fall since losing in the general election last summer, a series of political funds scandals has also taken its toll on the DPJ's support rate, with recent media polls showing a sharp decline toward the critical 30 percent benchmark.

"Unaffiliated" votes helped Your Party, a minor group led by former LDP member Yoshimi Watanabe, beat out candidates from both the LDP and the DPJ and secure two seats last month in the municipal election in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Another hope for Tachiagare Nippon is that it can attract defectors from the DPJ, which has shown signs of internal rifts during its seven months in power.

Some DPJ heavyweights, including Cabinet members Seiji Maehara and Yukio Edano, have criticized Secretary General Ozawa for holding overwhelming sway over the administration.

Tachiagare Nippon's Upper House member Takao Fujii expressed confidence in shaking up the DPJ, telling reporters earlier this month that his party has only begun to take shape. "There should be some within the DPJ who side with us," he predicted.

But analyst Morita called that pie in sky. "Its groundless to say there will be defectors from the DPJ. I don't foresee anyone joining the new party," he said.



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