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Friday, Feb. 25, 2011

Ozawa ally quits farm post, fanning fears of DPJ meltdown


Staff writer

A Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker close to Ichiro Ozawa tendered his resignation Thursday as parliamentary secretary of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, adding to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's woes.

News photo
Kenko Matsuki KYODO PHOTO

"I was told by (agriculture minister Michihiko) Kano to stay on in my post, but my decision remains unchanged," Kenko Matsuki told reporters.

Matsuki, who expressed his desire to resign Wednesday night, said he is leaving the post because the decision by DPJ executives to suspend Ozawa's party membership is "incomprehensible."

Matsuki's resignation fanned fears among the DPJ's leaders that more rank-and-file members may rebel openly against the unpopular prime minister, who desperately needs a united party if he is going to shepherd budget-related bills through the divided Diet.

Matsuki's resignation came a week after 16 Lower House members, also close allies of Ozawa, threatened to leave the DPJ's parliamentary group over the party's punishment of their boss' shady political fund transaction involving a ¥400 million land purchase in Tokyo. Ozawa is facing charges over the scandal.

One of the 16, Koichiro Watanabe, hinted they may vote against a budget-related bill that would allow the government to issue special deficit-covering bonds to cover as much as 44 percent of the ¥92.4 trillion fiscal 2011 budget.

Lack of support from even a few DPJ ranks would be a heavy blow to Kan, who has failed to gain cooperation from New Komeito and the Social Democratic Party.

There are 311 DPJ members in the Lower House, but to override the opposition-controlled Upper House they would need seven more votes to pass the budget. The SDP decided Tuesday to vote against the special bill to issue government bonds.

Matsuki, who hasn't discussed how he will vote on the bill, criticized several administration policies, saying it would be difficult to accept Kan's push for a consumption tax hike and joining talks for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact.

Leading DPJ members avoided commenting on Matsuki's resignation, saying only it was too bad he left.

"When we're trying our best to be united to tackle the New Zealand earthquake, it is regrettable that (the Matsuki news) came now," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said without commenting on the possibility that other Ozawa loyalists will jump ship.

Rank-and-file lawmakers meanwhile expressed concern over the widening DPJ rift.

Matsuki's resignation "is not preferable for the party" at a time when members are being urged to pass the fiscal 2011 budget, which includes funding for the child allowance, one lawmaker said.

Information from Kyodo added



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