Aso attacked on all fronts

LDP feuds; opposition smells blood

by Masami Ito and Alex Martin

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc easily shot down a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday, but the LDP slipped further into chaos as members pressed for their unpopular leader to exit.

The opposition-controlled Upper House later approved a nonbinding censure motion against Aso. With this bid, all deliberations in the chamber stopped and the remaining bills in the Diet, including one to allow inspections of ships going to and from North Korea in line with a U.N. resolution, were expected to be scrapped.

It is second time a nonbinding censure motion against a prime minister has been approved. The first, against Yasuo Fukuda, was adopted by the Upper House in June 2008.

Later in the evening, Aso said he was satisfied that no LDP lawmakers backed the no-confidence motion.

“Although everyone must have various opinions, I believe (the results indicate that) the Cabinet and the ruling coalition are united,” he said.

However, he said he would take seriously the approval of the nonbinding censure by the upper chamber.

He also decried the failure to pass a bill to inspect North Korean vessels even as other nations are taking steps to carry out the U.N. resolution.

Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama slammed Aso and his Cabinet during the day’s Lower House plenary session, saying the prime minister is “just clinging to government power.”

“The only way out for Prime Minister Aso is to dissolve the house immediately and seek the judgment of the people,” Hatoyama said. “And if Aso can’t do that, he should follow the regular procedures of a constitutional government and resign (the Cabinet) en masse.”

LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda retorted that the no-confidence motion was an attempt to divert attention from the scandal over Hatoyama’s political funding report, in which he admitted his fund management body reported ¥22 million in donations from dead people or people who deny making any contributions.

“I think it is safe to say that the submission of this vote of no confidence is tantamount to a ‘false donations coverup motion,’ ” Hosoda said.

The LDP’s internal rift widened despite Aso’s decision Monday to dissolve the Lower House next week and stay at the LDP helm for the Aug. 30 general election.

LDP executives came under attack at an Executive Council meeting over the party’s devastating loss Sunday in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

Makoto Koga, chairman of the LDP Election Strategy Council, expressed his intention to resign, not only to take responsibility for Sunday’s drubbing but also for the turmoil he caused by urging popular Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru, a former comedian, to run on the party ticket in the general election — a move that drew fire from some corners.

Hidehisa Otsuji, head of the LDP caucus in the Upper House, also said he would resign his post if party executives must take the blame for the Tokyo election setback.

Before Sunday, the LDP leaders denied the Tokyo campaign would have anything to do with the national election.

Some executives urged Koga and Otsuji to reconsider their decisions to step down, according to sources.

But Koga told reporters after leaving the gathering he would not step down, while some around him said he had vowed to stick to his word and quit.

Adding fuel to the fire, former LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa told Aso to his face at a meeting of LDP Lower House members that he should step down and let someone else lead the party into the general election.

“It is the DPJ that wants the dissolution now. I think it is wrong to do something that would benefit the DPJ,” Nakagawa said. “I think the LDP needs a bold new lineup . . . for the election.”

While some members sided with Nakagawa, others said it would be a big mistake to pick a new leader now, especially because Aso is the fourth prime minister to be installed since the last Lower House election in September 2005.