Prime Minister Naoto Kan failed again Thursday to coax indicted Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa into leaving the DPJ.
In their 50-minute meeting, Kan asked Ozawa to relinquish his membership in the DPJ and to wait until a ruling is handed down in his trial on charges of falsifying his political funds reports before trying to rejoin the fold.
Kan is trying to get Ozawa to leave the DPJ to show the public he is taking the Ozawa scandal seriously and to tighten control over his party, which is being destabilized by Ozawa’s disciples.
“I suggested to Ozawa that he should keep away from the party during the trial and concentrate on (defending himself). He said he doesn’t intend to do that,” Kan told reporters later the day.
Kan again also said party executives will soon make a final decision on Ozawa’s refusal to leave the party.
Ozawa faced reporters shortly after the meeting, noted Kan asked him to leave the DPJ for the duration of the trial, and said: “I have done nothing to be ashamed of.”
DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada, who was not present at the meeting, said Kan told him Ozawa is also still willing to give unsworn testimony before the Lower House Political Ethics Council, as he once vowed in December.
With Kan’s latest entreaty to Ozawa a bust, Okada is expected to propose in an executive meeting Monday that Ozawa be suspended from the party until a verdict is finalized in his trial for alleged misreporting of political funds. The party’s top executives will discuss the matter Tuesday.
With Kan and Ozawa arguing over how the party kingpin should proceed, the DPJ again is stricken by internal strife as the two rival camps face off.
The timing is crucial. As the Diet deliberates on the fiscal 2011 budget and related bills — the Cabinet’s priority — Kan is trying to demonstrate a hard line toward Ozawa to boast a clean image.
Since the DPJ-led coalition lacks a majority in the Upper House, it must rely on its ranks in the Lower House to override opposition rejections with a two-thirds majority, which it lacks.
DPJ executives are negotiating with the Social Democratic Party to revise the budget and get its backing on the bills in return. But even if the SDP supports the bills, they could still fail in the Diet if Ozawa and his allies abstain from voting — a scenario the DPJ’s executives think could occur if the party keeps riding him.
DPJ executive Azuma Koshiishi, who is close to Ozawa, admitted at a news conference earlier in the day that if the party gets tough on Ozawa, his allies may rebel.