Noda considers axing Koshiishi to clear election path

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, is considering replacing Azuma Koshiishi, its secretary general and No. 2 figure, if he is re-elected in September because Koshiishi opposes his plan to call a general election “soon,” DPJ sources said Saturday.

By removing Koshiishi, Noda can better prepare to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election as promised to the opposition parties in exchange for support in passing a sales tax hike earlier this month, they said.

Koshiishi, who leads the DPJ’s contingent in the Upper House, is reluctant to hold an early election out of fear that the DPJ will be dealt a major defeat.

Koshiishi wants to wait until the DPJ’s situation improves, the sources said.

Noda is also thinking of replacing Koshiishi because some members are beginning to aggressively question the secretary general’s role in splitting the party over the tax hike issue. That rift led to the expulsion of key strategist Ichiro Ozawa and dozens of other members who voted against the bill.

Koshiishi was appointed secretary general last September. Noda expected him to play a role in uniting the party because he was a close ally of Ozawa.

Noda said he wants to appoint a House of Representatives member to succeed Koshiishi, the sources said.

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada, who doubles as state minister for administrative, social security and tax reform, is believed to be a candidate, since those issues are certain to be a major focus of the election.

DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara also has considerable backing within the party, they said.

But if a rival candidate garners significant support in the DPJ’s presidential race next month, Noda may appoint the contender as secretary general if it will help bolster party unity, they added.

Senior LDP lawmakers have said Noda hinted to Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki around Aug. 8 that he plans to hold a general election in early November.

On Aug. 10, the LDP voted with the DPJ to pass the tax hike legislation, support Noda secured by promising to call an election “soon” afterward.

The LDP has been urging Noda to dissolve the Lower House during the current Diet session through Sept. 8, which would lead to a general election sometime in October.

Koshiishi, who represents Yamanashi Prefecture, is in his third term in the House of Councilors. The former elementary school teacher has long been a top leader in teachers’ labor unions.