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New Komeito’s leader lays into ‘wavering’ DPJ, rules out coalition

by Masami Ito

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi denounced the ruling Democratic Party of Japan for wavering in its policies and not keeping its promises with the public, and said his party has no plan to enter into a coalition with the DPJ.

With the Upper House election just weeks away, all political parties, including New Komeito, are gearing up for the first major battle since the DPJ seized power from the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito coalition last summer. The key lies in whether the ruling DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) bloc will manage to maintain a majority in the chamber.

“Our goal is to seek the judgment of the people over the DPJ’s broken promises and to prevent the DPJ from gaining a majority,” Yamaguchi said in an interview earlier this week.

Out of the 121 Upper House seats up for re-election in the July 11 vote, New Komeito is aiming as a minimum to retain its 11 seats that will be up for grabs.

But Yamaguchi refused to specify whether he would step down if his party fails to hang onto the 11 seats.

“We will do everything in our power to achieve the number we have set for ourselves, making such efforts until the very end,” Yamaguchi said. “I don’t think I should discuss ‘what ifs’ at the moment.”

New Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, currently holds 42 seats in the Diet and is often considered capable of tipping a numeric balance. But Yamaguchi was firm — this would not be for the sake of the DPJ.

“We have no intention of cooperating with the DPJ administration just for the sake of being an additional number” for the ruling bloc to maintain a majority, Yamaguchi said.

“There are so many things that make me doubtful of the DPJ, including the DPJ-led administration’s repeated broken promises to the public, the way it is managing the government, and its policies from a long-term viewpoint — and we have no intention of forming a coalition.”

One broken DPJ pledge when it came to power last year was not to raise the 5 percent consumption tax, but now, under new Prime Minister Naoto Kan, it’s signaling otherwise, Yamaguchi said.

When the DPJ came to power under Kan’s predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, the party promised not to seek a sales tax hike during the four-year term of the Lower House from August 2009. But ever since Kan took over earlier this month, he has hinted at raising the tax in the next few years to curb the snowballing state debt.

In its 2010 policy platform, New Komeito makes no mention of a consumption tax hike, except to point out the necessity of a “drastic reform” in the overall tax system to secure a stable source of income to cover social security costs.

While the party is vague on the consumption tax, Yamaguchi said he had no intention of engaging in nonpartisan talks over an increase, as proposed by Kan.

“What the DPJ needs to do first is explain why it changed its mind and revised its manifesto and apologize to the people,” he said. “The DPJ is changing a core, important part of its policy and naturally, it should seek the judgment of the people” by dissolving the Lower House and calling a general election.

For New Komeito, granting permanent foreign residents the right to vote in local-level elections has been a longtime goal. It has repeatedly submitted related bills to the Diet but without success.

Key lawmakers in the DPJ, including Hatoyama and Ichiro Ozawa, who quit as secretary general when Hatoyama bowed out, were supportive of foreigner suffrage and were set to submit a bill to the ordinary Diet session that ended in mid-June until running into internal party opposition and pressure from partner Kokumin Shinto.

“The DPJ at one point gave the impression that it would submit the bill but ended up not even being able to do so and it is heightening distrust among those concerned,” Yamaguchi said.

He added, however, that his party would be open to discussing the issue with other parties, including the DPJ, if they are serious about it.

“If there are people within the DPJ or other parties who seriously want (to establish foreigners’ right to vote in local elections) and not promoting it just for the sake of collecting votes, we would like to hear their opinions,” he said.