Politicians begin plotting strategies for Sept. 11 poll

by Reiji Yoshida

Campaigning for the Sept. 11 Lower House general election effectively got under way Tuesday, one day after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved the chamber on the heels of the House of Councilors’ rejection of his postal privatization bills.

Koizumi repeated that he will step down as prime minister if his Liberal Democratic Party and coalition ally New Komeito fail to win a combined majority in the Lower House.

“This is an election to ask voters whether they support or oppose postal privatization, and I believe a number of people will say yes” to privatization, Koizumi told reporters in Nagasaki, where he attended a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing.

Meanwhile, anti-Koizumi members of the LDP started discussing their campaign strategies.

Katsuya Okada, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, said he would resign from the helm of the main opposition party if he fails to establish a DPJ-led government in September.

“We have to change this country by creating a DPJ-led government at all costs. If we cannot take power, I don’t intend to stay at the party’s helm,” Okada told a news conference in Tokyo.

In an earlier appearance on Fuji TV, Okada said it would be “clearly wrong to make postal reforms the sole issue of the election,” noting that the election should also focus on ways to overhaul the pension and tax systems.

The postal bills cleared the Lower House last month, but by just five votes, after 37 LDP members voted against the package and 14 others abstained.

Key figures among the 37 rebels met Tuesday in a Tokyo hotel and agreed to form a “policy study group” to prepare for the election. Forming a new party is considered an option, but many at the gathering are choosing to run as independents, the members said.

Koizumi has said the LDP, which he heads, will not let the 37 members run on the party’s ticket in the election.

Some of the 37, including former Lower House Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, ex-LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma, were at the hotel meeting to talk strategy.

Many of the 37 want to run as independents because they hope they can eventually rejoin the LDP after the election, and their local LDP chapters have decided to back them despite Koizumi’s censure.

“The LDP won’t be able to form a government without (forming a coalition with) us after the election,” said Koki Kobayashi, who plans to run in a single-seat district in Tokyo.

The new group will compile a platform to let voters know they are the “real” members of the LDP, Kobayashi said.

“If (the LDP) begs us to join hands after the election, we’d propose (the platform) as a condition” to form a coalition government, Kobayashi said.

However, some of the 37 outcasts, particularly those who were elected on the LDP’s proportional representation segment in the last Lower House election in November 2003, would like to set up a new party, participants said.

“The constituency situation differs from member to member,” former Lower House lawmaker Masahiro Imamura said as he emerged from the meeting.

Approval rating rises

The approval rating for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet has risen to 47.3 percent, up 4.7 percentage points from the previous poll in July, according to a Kyodo News survey of 1,014 eligible voters conducted immediately after he dissolved the Lower House on Monday.

Of those surveyed, 54.4 percent support Koizumi’s decision to call a snap general election after the House of Councilors voted down bills to privatize the postal services. Those who supported privatization came to 51.6 percent.

Information from Kyodo added to main report