Aso ducks ouster bid: dissolution Tuesday

by Masami Ito and Alex Martin

After days of chaos within the Liberal Democratic Party, the movement to oust Prime Minister Taro Aso as party president effectively failed Friday, setting the stage for a Lower House dissolution Tuesday and a general election Aug. 30.

LDP lawmakers, including former Secretaries General Hidenao Nakagawa and Tsutomu Takebe, had played a central role in trying to bring Aso down, calling on party executives to hold a special decision-making meeting Friday before Aso dissolved the Lower House.

Such a session of the Joint Plenary Meeting of Party Members of Both Houses of the Diet could have led to a decision to hold a party presidential poll to pick a new leader.

LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda announced, however, that since the number of signatures of lawmakers calling for a joint plenary meeting did not reach the one-third threshold of 128, they would instead host a closed, general meeting Tuesday, before Aso dissolves the Lower House.

“The dissolution (of the Lower House) is near, and there are various opinions from lawmakers of both houses,” Hosoda said, adding that during the general meeting “the prime minister will express his determination (to face the general election), and listen to the opinions of each lawmaker.”

Hosoda acknowledged that the anti-Aso force, including Nakagawa, was dissatisfied with the executives’ decision, but said the meeting will be held to strengthen party unity.

“The public doubts our party’s internal unity,” Hosoda said. “We’d like to work to change that.”

Aso himself said later in the day he would like to listen to the voices of his party members Tuesday and to also express his resolve to lead the party into the upcoming poll.

“The tradition in the LDP’s long history was that the party unites in the face of a general election,” Aso said. “I believe it is most important for me to lead us to the poll and fight till the end, clenching my teeth.”

The set meeting, however, was not going to be open to the media, triggering speculation that the party executives wanted to be certain the expected criticism against Aso stayed behind closed doors.

Nakagawa meanwhile expressed strong discontent over the leadership’s decision.

“We won’t be able to rebuild the party if we don’t hold a free discussion, lay out firm policies and desperately appeal to the public about how we are going to stop the Democratic Party of Japan from taking control, to vow to regenerate the party, and to express our plans for Japan in the course of the next four years,” he said. “Entering the election battle while leaving things vague and running away is the worst-case scenario.”

But several key members of the anti-Aso group gathered later Friday and Takebe, expressing regret, said he would attend the meeting.

“It’s a shame. I’d have liked (the executives) to sincerely listen to our demands,” he said. But “just because our demands were rejected doesn’t mean we are going to reject or boycott the meeting.”

Yosano noncommittal

Kyodo News

Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano welcomed the Liberal Democratic Party leadership’s decision Friday to hold an emergency gathering next week, although he refused to say whether he will resign over differences with Prime Minister Taro Aso before the Aug. 30 general election.

“Before setting off for the dissolution and the election, the meeting will be a very important process,” Yosano said, noting Tuesday talks at the venue could “affect the fate of the party.”

“I am hoping the meeting will not be unproductive,” Yosano said when asked whether he will step down as finance minister.

Yosano, one of the most influential members of Aso’s Cabinet, has voiced dissatisfaction over the way the prime minister decided to dissolve the House of Representatives next week for the election before thoroughly examining the LDP’s crushing defeat in last Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.

As with many other LDP lawmakers, Yosano was urging the party executives to hold a plenary meeting — a key decision-making forum in which they could vote for a presidential poll to find someone to replace Aso.

Yosano’s move earlier this week to join the chorus calling for the plenary meeting dismayed some LDP executives. Asked about the impact, he said, “I took the best course of action based on my conscience.”

Yosano has experienced firsthand the LDP’s severe setback in the Tokyo race, in which the party lost its seat in Chiyoda Ward, part of his electoral district, for the first time in half a century.

Yosano is expected to wage a fierce battle with a former Democratic Party of Japan executive in the Aug. 30 election.