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Do or die at poll for Kokumin

by Masami Ito

The upcoming Lower House election is the last chance for Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) to stop postal privatization — and failure would leave the party’s survival in doubt, leader Tamisuke Watanuki said.

“This election is the last chance,” Watanuki said during a recent group interview. If the party fails, “our existence would be threatened, so we are putting everything we’ve got into this one battle.”

Watanuki, a former speaker of the Lower House, is a veteran lawmaker and one of the “postal reform rebels” who were not allowed to run on the Liberal Democratic Party ticket in the 2005 election due to their opposition to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s plan to privatize the postal services.

Watanuki, along with former LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei and other fellow postal reform rebels, founded Kokumin Shinto in August 2005.

Kokumin Shinto currently consists of nine members, five of whom are Upper House lawmakers. The party is set to back 18 candidates in the Aug. 30 election, Watanuki said.

Despite its size, Kokumin Shinto has been playing a key role in the Upper House as a member of the opposition camp, which holds a slim majority over the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition.

“Our five seats in the Upper House are very important,” Watanuki said. “We may be small, but I’d like to make sure that we maintain our independence as a political party.”

One question is how the party would interact with the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, in the Lower House if the ruling bloc is knocked off its throne.

Watanuki brushed off the idea of a coalition with the DPJ, but he would consider a “partial alliance” with other parties to push certain policies.

He stressed that Kokumin Shinto won’t cave in just for the sake of getting a ministerial post in a DPJ-led government.

A coalition with the DPJ “is not part of my strategy,” Watanuki said. But “a partial alliance is possible. I think it is desirable to cooperate on a policy basis.”

On the other hand, Watanuki completely dismissed the possibility of cooperating with his former colleagues in the LDP.

Working with the LDP “is not an option,” he said. “We cut our connection with the LDP and became a separate political party.”

The 10-year postal privatization process began on Oct. 1, 2007.