Postal rebels try to regroup via new party

Five form Kokumin Shinto

by Reiji Yoshida

Four Liberal Democratic Party foes of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform push and a defector from the main opposition force announced Wednesday they will form a new party and run on its ticket in the Sept. 11 poll.

The move is expected to deepen the rift among conservative politicians — and their support groups — before the general election.

The party, Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), will be headed by former House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki and include former LDP policy affairs chief Shizuka Kamei, ex-National Land Agency Director General Hisaoki Kamei and Kensei Hasegawa of the House of Councilors.

The four lawmakers, all opponents of Koizumi’s postal privatization drive, informed the LDP of their intention to quit earlier in the day.

Upper House lawmaker Hideaki Tamura, who quit the Democratic Party of Japan earlier in the day, also joined the new party.

“We’re not forcing people to join, but there are some who might do so,” Hisaoki Kamei later told reporters.

LDP rebels who join the new party are expected to find it hard to return to the LDP fold, as some have hinted hoping to do, even if they win.

But Kamei and Watanuki, the two pivotal figures in the new party, were forced to stage a make-or-break split from the LDP because Koizumi, the LDP president, has maintained an unexpectedly tough position of seeking to purge his opponents from the race by fielding other candidates on the LDP’s ticket in their constituencies.

Many other key opponents of postal reform, however, have said they will not join the new party. They appear to be afraid of losing unofficial election support that has been promised to them from prefectural LDP chapters in defiance of orders from party headquarters.

They include former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma and former Lower House member Akihiko Kumashiro, both elected from Okayama Prefecture, former posts minister Seiko Noda from Gifu Prefecture and former LDP Executive Council chief Mitsuo Horiuchi from Yamanashi Prefecture.

At a July Lower House vote on Koizumi’s privatization bills, 37 LDP members rebelled and voted against the package, and all have been denied the LDP ticket in the Sept. 11 poll. Most plan to run as independents while still retaining their LDP membership and are expecting support from local LDP chapters.

One advantage of establishing a new party is to earn proportional-representation votes for the party and thus give members who lack strong election-backing organizations a chance to land a Diet seat, an LDP member close to the new party said.

By being in a legally registered party, candidates can use more posters than independents and can make televised appearances.

During a news conference, Watanuki charged that Koizumi pushed the postal privatization bills and sidestepped the consensus-building process in the LDP. He also said Koizumi ignored the interests of rural areas and of the construction industry.

The new party is boasting five basic slogans, including “listening to the voice of the people” and “practicing warm-hearted politics” — an apparent jab by its members at what they reckon is a coldblooded reformist Koizumi focused only on the interests of urban voters.

Shizuka Kamei, who played a key role in launching the new party, said he would not rule out joining a postelection alliance with the LDP if Koizumi steps down as party president.

“This is the world of politics. Even if we move apart from each other, that doesn’t mean a breakup for good,” Kamei said. “It all depends on the situation.”

Asked if he is considering an alliance with the DPJ, Kamei said he would weigh such an option depending on the outcome of the election.

Earlier in the day, Tamura told reporters he was breaking with the DPJ because of his differences with the party over national security issues.

Tamura, a former high-ranking Air Self Defense Force officer, started out in the LDP but left in 1993. He later joined the now-defunct Liberal Party in 1998 and became a DPJ member when the Liberal Party merged with the DPJ in 2003.

Convict to candidate Former Construction Minister Kishiro Nakamura, convicted of bribery last year, announced Wednesday he will run in the Sept. 11 election as an independent.

The 56-year-old former Liberal Democratic Party member of the House of Representatives said he will run in the Ibaraki No. 7 district.

Nakamura was released in June 2004 after spending 18 months in prison and paying a 10 million yen fine for taking bribes. His case began when he was arrested in 1994 and ended when the Supreme Court dismissed his appeal Jan. 29, 2003.