Coalition chiefs to mull voting date

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will hold talks Wednesday with leaders of his Liberal Democratic Party’s two coalition partners to discuss the timing of the Lower House general election, lawmakers in the ruling alliance said Friday.

Mori, also LDP president, will meet with New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki and New Conservative Party chief Chikage Ogi, the lawmakers said.

Mori is expected to decide on when to call the next general election after the meeting. The current Lower House term runs through October, but it is widely speculated that Mori will dissolve the chamber for a snap election on either June 18 or June 25.

“The prime minister will analyze the situation with the two party leaders, and ask for their opinions, but the final decision will be made by the prime minister himself,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a regular news conference.

Mori met with his aides — Aoki and LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka — on Thursday evening to discuss the matter.

Nonaka and Aoki later told the press that they would leave the matter in Mori’s hands and pledged their full cooperation and support.

In an interview with The Japan Times on Thursday, Mori said he would decide on the timing of the election after considering how the economy would look in June.

Komeito’s Kanzaki told his own party members Friday that it is “most likely” that the general election will be held in June, adding that he would leave the timing of the election up to Mori.

Meanwhile, Naoto Kan, policy chief of the Democratic Party of Japan, lashed out against Mori’s reported plan to hold the election in June as an attempt to take advantage of people’s sympathy for his predecessor, Keizo Obuchi, who remains comatose after collapsing from a stroke on April 2.

“Many voters are likely to feel anger toward (the LDP’s) shrewd tactics,” Kan told a news conference.

Hatoyama may return

Speculation is growing within the opposition Democratic Party of Japan that Kunio Hatoyama may return to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to run in the upcoming general election.

The former DPJ Lower House member left the DPJ when he unsuccessfully ran for the Tokyo gubernatorial race last April.

While some LDP leaders deny it is likely, a DPJ lawmaker said Hatoyama has already met with LDP Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka to discuss the matter.

Hatoyama told a gathering Friday evening in Tokyo that he “has been approached by various parties,” adding that he will make a decision soon after Golden Week.

Political pundits say he may run on the LDP’s proportional representation ticket in the Tokyo bloc.

Hatoyama, younger brother of DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama, belonged to the LDP until 1993.

He joined his brother in founding the DPJ in 1996 but has reportedly been at odds with Yukio. Since he lost in the gubernatorial election, he has openly criticized the DPJ’s policies.

Kajiyama’s decision

In the latest in a string of reports that veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers are stepping away from the front line, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama is considering retiring from politics, sources said Friday.

The outspoken 74-year-old member of the House of Representatives is not expected to run in the next general elections, which must be called by mid-October.

A final decision on Kajiyama’s political future is expected to be announced at the Ibaraki Prefectural Government office on Tuesday, the sources said.

Kajiyama, who unsuccessfully ran for the LDP presidency in July 1998, suffered whiplash in a traffic accident in Ibaraki Prefecture in January.

He later underwent surgery for a subdural hematoma and is still in a Tokyo hospital, and it is uncertain whether he can recover sufficiently to campaign, according to sources close to the lawmaker. His eldest son may take his place in the elections, which are widely expected to be held in June, they added.

Sources said the expected retirement from politics of former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita, as well as the hospitalization of Keizo Obuchi, who suffered a stroke while prime minister, may have had an impact on the aging Kajiyama.