Ozawa set to lead Liberals out of alliance

Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa is expected to formally convey his decision to leave the ruling coalition in a meeting today with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

The leaders of the three ruling parties are to meet at 6 p.m. this evening at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence to assess progress made in realizing policy agreements reached in October, when the tripartite coalition was launched.

At the meeting, Ozawa is expected to announce his party’s defection from the ruling camp by claiming the Liberal Party’s policy demands on national security and social welfare have not been achieved.

While the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito will maintain a majority in both houses of the Diet after the Liberal Party’s probable departure, a split in the six month-old coalition could hurt Obuchi’s power base in this election year.

Ozawa’s departure from the coalition is also expected to split the 50-member Liberal Party.

Transport Minister Toshihiro Nikai told reporters Friday night that he will not resign from the post even if the Liberal Party, to which he belongs, leaves the coalition.

“I will carry out my responsibility as a Cabinet member,” said Nikai, the only member of the Liberal Party in the 19-member Cabinet.

He was speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on Friday night.

New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki will join the Obuchi-Ozawa meeting, and Nikai is also likely to take part, LDP officials said.

The leaders’ meeting was scheduled after Liberal Party Secretary General Hirohisa Fujii requested the talks in a meeting with LDP Secretary General Yoshiro Mori earlier Friday.