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Tax advocate must seek unity, opposition support

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Newly elected Democratic Party of Japan President Yoshihiko Noda has to hit the ground running and quickly address such daunting issues as unifying his party’s warring factions and winning the opposition’s cooperation in rebuilding the devastated northeast.

Outgoing Prime Minister Naoto Kan pursued an openly confrontational path that split the DPJ into two rival camps — one backing former party chief Ichiro Ozawa and one opposed to the wily kingpin, who has been indicted over a political funding scandal.

Although the division runs deep, analysts say Kan’s exit will clear the way for the two sides to reconcile their differences, especially since a general election must be held within the next two years.

“While many analysts have said that the DPJ could split up, this appears unlikely, especially as Ozawa’s group has too much to lose by breaking away (to form a new party),” said Naoto Nonaka, a political science professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. “How would a new party contest the next general election with a leader who has been indicted?”

Since declaring his candidacy for the DPJ presidential race, Noda has stressed that his top priority will be to unite the party’s warring factions.

“We must put an end to narrow-minded internal rivalries and overcome deep-seated grudges,” Noda said during a news conference Saturday. “The prime minister’s first and most important task is to bring the different groups together, but that will not be possible if we continue to label party members as pro- or anti-(Ozawa).”

On Monday, Noda repeated that the DPJ’s new leadership and Cabinet should demonstrate some solidarity.

Monday’s vote triggered a runoff between Noda, who is considered “anti-Ozawa,” and trade minister Banri Kaieda, who was backed by the DPJ don.

The focus has now shifted to how Ozawa’s group will respond to Noda’s victory, and whether they will opt to cooperate with him or deepen the party divide.

Nonaka and other pundits said Noda can use his appointments to the party’s executive and ministerial posts to integrate Ozawa’s supporters.

But his choice for DPJ secretary general, the party’s No. 2 post, is seen as critical.

Ozawa’s supporters are thought to be strongly opposed to tapping Yoshito Sengoku, who served as Kan’s chief Cabinet secretary and is considered strongly anti-Ozawa, for secretary general. While it remains unclear who Noda intends to select for the key positions, Nonaka believes he will take a balanced approach.

“Internal strife may continue to some extent, but I think that members from both camps will be included in the lineup,” Nonaka said.

But even if Noda manages to unite the ruling party, he faces another major obstacle — getting the opposition camp to cooperate with his administration instead of playing power games.

Kan’s government struggled to pass bills in the divided Diet, where the opposition parties hold a majority in the Upper House and used the advantage to delay crucial legislation.

For example, a bill to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance a large part of the initial fiscal 2011 budget took an unprecedented six months just to clear the Lower House.

Meanwhile, more than five months have passed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on the lives of tens of thousands of people, and the frustrated victims have blasted the political bickering in Nagata-cho. Noda’s new government will have to immediately draft a third extra budget to finance reconstruction measures.

Noda initially favored a grand coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party to break the Diet gridlock, but given reluctance on both sides, he toned down his statement and said he was eager to form a “trusting relationship.”

“To implement various policies, we must . . . listen carefully to the opposition parties’ opinions and seek their understanding to move policies forward,” Noda said Monday.

Sadafumi Kawato, a professor of political science at the University of Tokyo, said a grand coalition is not really necessary, as about 80 percent of government-sponsored bills were passed without the ruling and opposition parties joining hands.

But he also said that Kan’s major failure was his decision to oppose the powerful Ozawa. “The ruling party will return to normal, and will back its prime minister and facilitate deliberation in the Diet,” he said. “It was the Kan administration that was abnormal.”