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Thursday, July 5, 2012
Ozawa to lead new party of DPJ defectors
Possible Kizuna ties won't end weakness in Lower House
By MASAMI ITO
Former Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa and his fellow defectors agreed Wednesday to launch their new party in a week, with Ozawa as leader.
The new group's tentative name is Kokumin Seikatsu ga Daiichi — Mushozoku-no-Ayumi (the people's lives come first — the path of independents). An official name will be announced next week. It is made up of 37 Lower House and 12 Upper House members, two of whom are independents.
All bolted from the DPJ earlier this week after rejecting the controversial tax hike bill.
Even as 47 lawmakers gathered Wednesday to show their loyalty to the power broker, the new group is already on shaky ground as its ranks change on a daily basis, a sign that Ozawa's influence may be weakening.
During the meeting, Ozawa expressed his intention to lead the party to the pinnacle of influence.
"I am very honored but at the same time feel the heavy weight of responsibility to be chosen as the leader of the new party, which must carry the future of Japan and its people," he said. "Let's gather our strength to build a wonderful Japan and realize politics that prioritizes the lives of the public."
Ozawa vowed to regain the public trust lost by the DPJ since it took power in 2009.
He also told his followers that he expected a Lower House election in the near future.
"We must live up to our promises that we made three years ago and attempt to gain public support in the nearing general election to build a government that we had originally aimed to establish," Ozawa said.
According to Lower House member Shozo Azuma, one of the participants, Ozawa's new party will tie up with Kizuna Party, whose nine Lower House members left the DPJ in December after opposing Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's effort to double the consumption tax to 10 percent by October 2015.
Even together the two groups fall short of the 51 votes needed to submit a vote of no-confidence against Noda in the Lower House. But participants have expressed hope that more lawmakers will defect from the DPJ.
Ozawa had more than 100 followers in the DPJ, while 72 party members either rejected the tax bill or abstained from voting on it.
Political analysts say that Ozawa is not as charismatic as he used to be and question the new party's unity.
Of the 52 Diet members who initially left the party with Ozawa, three have already backed out and two others have indicated their intention to remain independent for the time being.
"I don't think anyone from our side ever ordered someone to join our group against his or her will," Azuma told reporters. "We are politicians, and in this sort of situation, we should decide our future ourselves."
On the other hand, Gaku Kato, a Lower House lawmaker who previously said he would remain in the DPJ, announced Wednesday he will join Ozawa.
Kato told reporters that he made the decision after his party membership was suspended for two months as punishment for his vote against the tax bill, which would limit his political activities.
His entry to the meeting Wednesday afternoon was met with applause.
"We are in a difficult situation but I would like to firmly unite with everyone and achieve our purpose," Kato said at the meeting. Kato is expected to join the Ozawa group later.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party, which slammed the DPJ for not dealing with the dissenters more harshly, suspended Hidenao Nakagawa, a former secretary general, for six months. Nakagawa was the only party member to vote against the bill.
The DPJ is in the process of finalizing its punishments against those who opposed the tax bill.
Ozawa and 36 lawmakers who sent letters of resignation to the leadership earlier this week will be expelled, while former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who did not leave the DPJ, will lose his party membership for six months.