Koizumi vows to step down if ruling bloc loses election

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister and Liberal Democratic Party President Junichiro Koizumi stressed Monday he will step down immediately if the ruling coalition fails to win a majority in the 480-seat House of Representatives in the Sept. 11 election.

“I will step down even if (the result) is only one seat short” of 241, Koizumi said during a televised debate with leaders of the six major parties hosted by the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

The LDP usually increases its seat count after an election by bringing conservative lawmakers who successfully ran as independents into its fold. Koizumi’s remarks, however, effectively ruled this out for the Sept. 11 race and shut the door on forming alliances with third parties afterward.

The debate was the first in which the heads of the LDP, its junior partner in the ruling bloc, New Komeito, and the Democratic Party of Japan, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) gathered to discuss policy.

During the debate, Koizumi revealed that the interim Iraqi government has formally asked Japan to extend the Self-Defense Forces’ humanitarian mission beyond Dec. 15, which marks the formal end of the mission. The mission has already been extended once.

According to Kyodo News, Foreign Ministry officials later confirmed that Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura had received a letter bearing the request last week.

But Koizumi declined comment on when the Ground Self-Defense Force troops would be pulled out and only said he would consider the issue in December.

GSDF troops have been engaged in aid and reconstruction work in the southern Iraq city of Samawah.

The DPJ, the main opposition party, has vowed in its campaign platform to pull the troops out by the current deadline.

The two-hour debate, conducted in rounds, provided a clear map of each party’s campaign strategy.

During the first round, Koizumi avoided mentioning any issue except his key goal of privatizing the postal system.

In contrast, DPJ President Katsuya Okada criticized Koizumi for the LDP’s apparent lack of commitment to basic pension reform. About 11 million people have flouted the obligatory premium payments and risk becoming pensionless in old age.

“It’s clear that a huge number of people will not be covered by the pension system in the future. But the LDP’s manifesto does not touch on any concrete measures” to deal with the situation, he said.

Koizumi stressed that political parties, whether part of the ruling camp or not, shouldn’t focus solely on pension issues and instead should organize a nonpartisan long-term policy forum separate from the electoral wars.

Okada meanwhile said he would stay at the helm of his party at least until the Diet votes to choose a prime minister after the election. He had said he would step down if a DPJ-led government does not emerge from the election, but his remarks Monday indicate he would not rule out trying to form an alliance with other groups to wrest power from the LDP-New Komeito bloc.