The small opposition force Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) on Monday snubbed Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s overture to join the ruling bloc, undermining his administration’s latest attempt to get past the divided Diet.
The offer to join the Democratic Party of Japan-led government was perceived in part as a bid by Kan, whose allies are relentlessly trying to pressure DPJ heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa into testifying before the Diet over his political funds scandal, to boost the coalition’s numbers should the party don and his disciples bolt.
The DPJ lacks the numbers to secure Upper House passage of budget-related bills, but has a solid Lower House majority.
Political observers said Kan’s forces have been doing a good job at cornering Ozawa, who faces indictment over the scandal, but they were unable to lay the necessary political groundwork to attract Tachiagare Nippon, whose three lower and three upper chamber members would not have enough votes to win passage for the ruling bloc’s bills.
At a news conference after a meeting with party members, Tachiagare Nippon leader Takeo Hiranuma said his party decided to reject the DPJ’s offer to join in the ruling coalition, which also includes the small partner Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party).
“We (decided) that we should clearly turn down the bid if Tachiagare Nippon is only going to be a complementary factor to the ruling coalition,” Hiranuma said.
“It is true that the current political situation is in a critical state,” he added. “Tachiagare Nippon is a party of principles and we are willing to take action to achieve a breakthrough in this politically critical situation based on our principles.”
Hiranuma also revealed that the DPJ asked for help regarding the North Korea abduction issue, and had made no official offer to provide a ministerial post.
According to participants at the party’s gathering, Tachiagare Nippon coleader Kaoru Yosano had been eager to join hands with the DPJ, but the others responded negatively because the bid seemed to be just about the DPJ securing enough votes in the Diet to pass bills.
“To put it simply, the DPJ is struggling with the (divided) Diet and is just looking to find even a small way out,” Tachiagare Nippon Secretary General Hiroyuki Sonoda said at the same news conference.
Tachiagare Nippon’s Diet strength would not guarantee the votes needed to pass budget-related bills in the Diet.
But Kan and his DPJ executives had hoped that if Tachiagare Nippon joined the coalition, other opposition parties may follow suit.
Hours after its coalition overture was rejected, the DPJ had even a bigger headache: how to deal with Ozawa’s political funds scandal before the Diet.
Party executives later in the day agreed to put to a vote whether Ozawa should testify as an unsworn witness in the Lower House political ethics panel. The vote will be held by the beginning of the ordinary Diet session in January, the participants said.
Ozawa has steadfastly refused to appear, and any summons to the panel would anyway be nonbinding and unsworn testimony would not subject him to possible perjury charges.
The DPJ executives are slowly but steadily cornering Ozawa, however.
When Ozawa is indicted next month as expected, voices are expected to increase to have him reprimanded, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said. Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku suggested in a TV program Sunday that Ozawa “should leave the party” if he is officially indicted.
“Leaving the situation as is without progress and without a time frame is not preferable,” Okada said.
Kan also told reporters Monday evening that Ozawa should make clear “his intentions for the future if he cannot comply with what the party has decided,” suggesting he must leave the DPJ if he continues to resist Diet testimony.
Tachiagare Nippon’s key members were in the Liberal Democratic Party when Ozawa floated the idea of an LDP-DPJ grand coalition. He was DPJ president at the time and the LDP was in power, but his colleagues shot down the idea.