Ozawa offers to resign

Fukuda proposed full security-policy reversal, he says

by Masami Ito and Setsuko Kamiya

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa offered his resignation Sunday as head of the biggest opposition force over the rift caused by his controversial handling of a proposal for a grand coalition with the ruling bloc.

Ozawa drew heavy criticism within his party for not immediately turning down the proposal Friday by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda to form a new coalition government.

The fact that Ozawa took the matter back to the DPJ for further discussion among party executives — who rejected the proposal — was taken as proof that he was interested in teaming up with the LDP, drawing fire from other opposition parties as well as numerous DPJ lawmakers.

At a hastily arranged news conference at DPJ headquarters in Tokyo, Ozawa revealed Sunday that he was in fact very positive about joining hands with the ruling bloc over key policy issues because Fukuda offered major concessions when they met Friday.

According to Ozawa, Fukuda told him the LDP was willing to “completely switch” the government’s position on dispatching the Self-Defense Forces overseas.

Fukuda agreed to follow Ozawa’s longtime principle that such dispatches should only be allowed under sanction of a U.N. Security Council resolution, Ozawa said.

Fukuda was willing to “completely switch our nation’s security policy, which has been scattered up to now,” Ozawa said. “Personally, I determined that (the major change in policy) was enough to begin discussing policies” with the LDP.

According to Ozawa, Fukuda also made another concession in their talks, saying that if the DPJ joined the ruling coalition, Fukuda would not insist on the LDP-backed bill to allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force to refuel multinational forces engaged in antiterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.

He said it was with these concessions in hand that he was rebuffed by the DPJ executives.

“Although the DPJ has submitted various bills to the Upper House, we cannot gain approval unless the DPJ holds a majority in the Lower House,” Ozawa said. “If (the DPJ forms a coalition with the LDP), we would be able to meet the promises we made to the public.”

In the Upper House election in July, the DPJ scored a historic win, giving control of the chamber to the opposition parties.

“I think (this rejection by the DPJ executives, whom Ozawa had appointed) is equivalent to a vote of no confidence,” he said.

Ozawa wasn’t clear if he will leave the party. “I want to take some time and think about the future,” he told the news conference.

Ozawa said he tendered his resignation to DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama Sunday morning and was leaving the matter up to the party executives. They were expected to meet Monday, Hatoyama told reporters later in the day, adding he would urge Ozawa not to resign.

After Friday’s LDP-DPJ talks, some news outlets reported it was Ozawa and not Fukuda who first proposed the coalition idea.

Ozawa blasted these reports, stressing it was Fukuda who brought up the proposal.

“The fact that there were so many groundless reports means that most of the media institutions except the Asahi Shimbun and Nikkei Shimbun played a part in controlling public opinion by reporting the information (provided by) the government and the LDP,” Ozawa said.

“I am furious because this is clearly libelous reporting aimed at ruining my political (career) and irreparably damaging the DPJ’s image,” he continued.

Political observers say his resignation is expected to increase the current political instability and exacerbate confrontations between the ruling and opposition camps, prolonging the Diet stalemate over such key policy matters as the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and boosting the momentum toward a new political alignment.

After the idea for a grand coalition was rejected at the DPJ executive meeting, Ozawa gave the news to Fukuda during a telephone conversation Friday evening.

During their talks earlier Friday as the heads of their respective parties, Ozawa stressed the need for a permanent law to dispatch the Self-Defense Forces for international peace activities and expressed his willingness to cooperate on a bill to resume the Indian Ocean refueling mission if the government agrees to work to establish such a law.

Fukuda then reportedly proposed forming a coalition government between the DPJ and the ruling coalition of his Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and expressed readiness to work on the envisioned permanent law on condition of forming the grand alliance.

Information from Kyodo added