DPJ, LDP execs in grand coalition talks: sources

Old-guard parties fear Osaka Mayor Hashimoto's soaring popularity may crush them at next vote

Kyodo

Executives of the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party are engaged in behind-the-scenes talks about forming a grand coalition after the next general election, sources said.

Senior members of the ruling party and the largest opposition force are examining ways to cooperate over passing bills to hike the sales tax, the sources said.

Behind the move is a growing sense of crisis among the executives that the local party led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, regarded as a young and popular reformer, is poised to enter national politics — and potentially crush established parties at the next general election.

Some lawmakers in the DPJ and LDP have apparently determined they need to cooperate if their parties are to stand a chance of competing against Hashimoto’s party, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), which last month compiled an outline of policy promises, including abolishing the Upper House and electing prime ministers through a popular vote.

Executives of the two parties are also seeking to greatly curtail the influence of former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, who heads the party’s largest internal faction and strongly opposes Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plan to raise the consumption tax.

The executives are discussing whether to form a true coalition or a “partial coalition” on a policy-by-policy basis, on the condition that Noda will dissolve the Lower House sometime during the current Diet session that runs until June, the sources said.

Noda and LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki discussed these matters during secret talks Feb. 26, but the DPJ and LDP only recently began unofficial negotiations involving influential lawmakers, the sources said.

The talks could easily be derailed, however.

Over recent months, Noda has reiterated his intention to pass legislation to hike the sales tax before dissolving the Lower House, while the LDP has continued to argue that the bills should be handled after a snap election. That difference could prove crucial.

But as Noda and Tanigaki each aim to seek new terms as leader in party presidential elections planned for September, they both appear to have judged it would be strategically beneficial to achieve an amicable dissolution of the Lower House.

Both have emphasized the necessity of increasing the consumption tax to raise the vast sums needed to cover swelling social security costs. But both have also failed to form a consensus for doing so within their parties.

Meanwhile, Hashimoto has vowed to field candidates from Osaka Ishin no Kai nationwide in the next general election.

The mayor is currently pursuing a policy of creating an Osaka metropolis with an administrative structure similar to Tokyo’s.