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Friday, Dec. 28, 2012

Nippon Mirai breaks up as Ozawa, allies veer off


By AYAKO MIE and REIJI YOSHIDA
Staff writers

The members of Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) agreed Thursday to split the antinuclear party as strife emerged over who should lead it following its meltdown in the Dec. 16 Lower House election.

Nippon Mirai is expected to break into a group led by founder and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, and one led by Ichiro "the destroyer" Ozawa, a political heavyweight known for habitually splitting parties.

The strife began when Kada proposed making Tomoko Abe, formerly of the Social Democratic Party, coleader of Nippon Mirai. But the pro-Ozawa group reportedly demanded that Ozawa be given the post instead.

"We have the same (antinuclear) goal but different ways of pursuing it," deputy leader Tetsunari Iida told reporters after the meeting at the Diet. "We will continue to seek the goal together."

Fifteen of the party's 17 remaining Diet members attended the meeting, and all endorsed the splitup agreement, which was proposed by Vice President Yuko Mori and Iida, according to Mori.

Iida failed to win a seat in the election and remains a non-Diet executive member of the party.

The party's implosion began Wednesday when another heavyweight, Shizuka Kamei, said he intended to depart, leaving the party. Fifteen of the 17 remaining once belonged to Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (People's Life First), the fledgling party Ozawa formed. They are expected to make another party.

After completing the clerical procedures for the split, Kada and the other leaders will hold a news conference at 6 p.m. Friday in Shiga, Mori said.

On Wednesday, Kada said she tried to reach Ozawa to talk about appointing a coleader but was unable to contact him. Ozawa is known for cutting communications with people to tacitly express disapproval or apply pressure.

"There has been a lot of confusion, and for that I apologize. Politics are about results, and my leadership was insufficient," Kada said Wednesday in Shiga. "I want to split the party peacefully with Ozawa."

Nippon Mirai was formed just a month ago on a wave of antinuclear sentiment generated by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. But its battle cry was not viewed as sincere — especially on the part of Ozawa and his followers — but merely a bid to survive the Lower House election after they left the Democratic Party of Japan over the sales tax bill's passage.

Soon after their July breakup, Ozawa's group suddenly began calling for the abolition of nuclear plants. As the election approached, those who followed Ozawa, mostly junior Diet members, were considered unlikely to keep their seats.

In the end, Nippon Mirai, which was centered on Ozawa's group, was nearly wiped out. It lost 85 percent of its 61 seats, ending up with just nine.

Despite the prevailing antinuclear sentiment, the nation's 3.4 million voters elected just seven of Nippon Mirai's proportional-representation candidates. The other two survivors, veterans Ozawa and Shizuka Kamei, defended their single-seat districts as usual.

Mori declined comment on the outcome and Kada opted to wait until the Friday's briefing.

Ozawa, 70, was nicknamed "the destroyer" for his ability to destabilize or split political parties. He has bolted four parties and created five new ones in the course of his career and is on the verge of forming his sixth. One of the parties he formed followed his legendary split from the LDP.

Ozawa deserted the LDP in 1993 after he was passed over as successor to its largest faction. He then formed Shinshinto (New Frontier Party), which became the largest opposition party. The party disbanded in 1997 after being torn apart by an internal struggle that highlighted his dictatorial leadership and poor communication skills.

Ozawa then went on to launch the Liberal Party, which was also split after anti-Ozawa strife. The Democratic Party of Japan agreed to absorb his party in 2003.

But the DPJ eventually fell prey to the very same power struggles as Ozawa and anti-Ozawa lawmakers continued to clash, considerably weakening unity and disappointing its many supporters. This was one of the main reasons why the DPJ was clobbered in the Dec. 16 election.

In the past three decades, Ozawa has always been a central player in the political arena, but his prospects are no longer bright now that his group has been reduced to 15 members.

Six of them are in the Upper House and will face re-election next summer.



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