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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

Emboldened Ozawa blames Kan for poll


By KANAKO TAKAHARA and NATSUKO FUKUE
Staff writers

The fate of Prime Minister Naoto Kan was hanging in the balance Monday following a devastating defeat the previous day in a key local poll in Ibaraki Prefecture in which only six of 24 candidates fielded by the Democratic Party of Japan won.

Sunday's Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly election was widely considered a harbinger of a number of local-level elections scheduled in April. The latest setback has added to growing concern among DPJ members that the party under Kan may suffer similar defeats in April.

The six seats won by the DPJ matched the number held before the election, signaling defeat for a party that could only seat a quarter of its candidates.

A conservative district, Ibaraki is a stronghold of the Liberal Democratic Party. Nevertheless, the LDP failed to take advantage of the DPJ's struggles, securing only 33 seats, down from the 45 it held going into the election.

Meanwhile, Your Party secured two seats and New Komeito held onto its four, with independents gaining 13.

Political observers say the results will lead to further conflicts between Kan supporters and backers of party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa, who has been critical of the DPJ president.

"Ozawa will use the defeat as an excuse to bring down Kan," said political commentator Hirotada Asakawa. "He will place the blame on anti-Ozawa members such as Kan, (DPJ Secretary General Katsuya) Okada and (Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito) Sengoku.

Momentum is growing among local-level DPJ members, who face races in April, as well as DPJ lawmakers in the Diet to replace Kan, Asakawa said.

"But they don't have a clear idea (on a replacement)," he said. "Prospective candidates have little experience and they feel it will only have a negative effect if the prime minister is replaced in such a short period of time."

The Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly election has triggered another power struggle between Kan and Ozawa, which has dragged on since the two vied for the party presidency in September.

Ozawa, who has spurned requests from the DPJ leadership to testify in the Diet over a political funds scandal, had said before Sunday's poll that criticism of Kan and party leaders would intensify among local DPJ ranks if the party was defeated.

In the eyes of Ozawa supporters, Kan is trying to banish Ozawa from the political stage in Nagata-cho by painting him as a behind-the-scenes fixer who got enmeshed in a political funds scandal.

Three of Ozawa's former secretaries were charged with involvement in falsifying political funds reports compiled by Rikuzankai, Ozawa's political funds management body, and Ozawa, too, faces mandatory indictment.

Kan's side, meanwhile, wants to call Ozawa before the Diet to cleanse the party's image — and set itself apart, as it once did, from the "tainted" LDP. Taking an anti-Ozawa stance has in the past led to a surge in the Cabinet support rate.

Nevertheless, chances are low Ozawa and his supporters will leave the party if the conflict intensifies, said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University.

"If that is the case, an estimated 20 to 30 lawmakers would leave with Ozawa," Iwai said. "But the so-called Ozawa children know that they can't win election once they leave the party, so I don't think they will."

Observers predict political chaos throughout the next month and beyond as the internal chasm widens going into deliberations on the fiscal 2011 budget at next month's ordinary Diet session, where Kan faces a divided Diet.

Kan has already given up on easing the ban on arms exports to gain support from the Social Democratic Party, a former coalition partner.

The SDP's support is crucial to passing the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills in the Diet.

But for local chapters, the struggle at the national level will only have a negative impact on elections.



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The Japan Times

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