Rifts surface as DPJ seeks to woo allies

Foe to military, SDP wants its voice heard

by Alex Martin and Masami Ito

Fresh from Sunday’s landslide Lower House election win, the Democratic Party of Japan officially kicked off talks Wednesday with its two small allies to form a coalition government, but the day’s talks pointed to a rough road ahead.

One ally, the Social Democratic Party, flatly opposes any Self-Defense Forces deployment abroad, while the other ally, Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), wants to scotch the whole postal system privatization process started by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc that the DPJ unseated.

Masayuki Naoshima, chairman of the DPJ Policy Research Council, and his SDP and Kokumin Shinto counterparts met at the Diet, where the DPJ handed the two a draft of a coalition plan based on their common campaign platforms compiled before the election.

It basically avoided the contentious points.

In Wednesday’s talks, the three allies failed to agree on key issues, particularly foreign policy and national security. This looked to expose more of their differences instead of their common ground.

Naoshima told reporters after the meeting that no agreement was reached on foreign policy or security, although he said the DPJ wants to work out the problems before compiling a common platform.

“We’ll do our best” to resolve the differences, Naoshima said.

The three sides did manage to agree to add to the platform countermeasures against the swine flu epidemic and natural disasters like flooding from torrential rain, he said.

Naoshima also said both the SDP and its policy chief, Tomoko Abe, who was present at the meeting, have called for formation of a policy coordination panel whose recommendations would be reflected in Cabinet decisions.

Kokumin Shinto’s Shozaburo Jimi, who represented the party in the tripartite talks, also made the same demand.

“I believe it is necessary to create a system that would adequately reflect our policies,” Jimi told reporters afterward.

The DPJ, however, was wary of the idea, fearing it would result in the same dual decision-making structure that was a legacy of the long LDP rule, when government policies faced scrutiny by LDP panels.

The DPJ made it a campaign promise to avoid creating a dual decision-making structure.

Although the DPJ alone won a historic, record majority in the Lower House in Sunday’s election, to keep numeric control of the Upper House, it needs to stay allied with both the SDP and Kokumin Shinto.

Naoshima said he hopes the three find common ground by week’s end.

Earlier in the day, SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima met with DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama and asked him to establish the policy-coordination panel.

“Hatoyama has said that if we join the coalition and become part of the ruling bloc, we need to hold discussions to agree on common policies and to unify them, so I asked him to guarantee a system, a framework, for such talks,” Fukushima said.

“And I believe it’s good that Hatoyama said he would take this into consideration, since it would be extremely important from the viewpoint of policies and guidelines.”

Although coalition talks began Wednesday, the SDP and DPJ are far apart on security issues. The SDP opposes any overseas SDF dispatch, including the current Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and the MSDF antipiracy patrols off Somalia. Elements in the party remain strongly against supporting a Hatoyama-led government that would allow such missions, even from outside the Cabinet.

“The SDP has not yet determined whether to cooperate with the government from inside or outside the Cabinet,” Fukushima said.

SDP Secretary General Yasumasa Shigeno, who was also present at the talks, said he asked Hatoyama to make sure the voices of the seven-member SDP are heard.

“As a coalition partner, we are a minor party, whereas the (DPJ) is enormous,” Shigeno said. “And I asked Hatoyama to make sure he was aware of the situation and the dynamics do not (affect) government administration.”

Also Wednesday, Naoshima and DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada visited departing LDP Prime Minister Taro Aso’s office to request cooperation for a smooth transition of power.

The two met Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura at the prime minister’s office and asked the government to provide information on matters such as the budget, diplomacy and risk management.

“For a smooth transition of power, I’d like the government to ask the ministries for their cooperation and provision of information,” Okada told Kawamura.

At a news conference before the meeting, Kawamura said the government intended to cooperate for the sake of national interests.

“We lack specific rules for the transition of power — unlike the United States and Britain — but this will be the first step,” he said.

On Sunday, the DPJ won 308 out of the 480 Lower House seats in its landslide win, crushing the LDP, which has ruled for the past 54 years except for an 11-month hiatus starting in 1993. The SDP held onto its seven seats while Kokumin Shinto won three, reflecting a loss of one seat.

Hatoyama is expected to be sworn in as prime minister in a Sept. 16 special Diet session.

U.S. on trade ties

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States wants to maintain solid trade relations with Japan after the government changes hands in Tokyo, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Tuesday.

“The U.S., as always, is hopeful about maintaining and building on what has been a very strong bilateral relationship with Japan,” he said.