Enemies in DPJ threatened ouster to forestall poll

Foes forced Noda to call dissolution

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda moved to dissolve the Lower House on Friday amid constant pressure from the opposition and also from Democratic Party of Japan members who wanted him to step down, but his gamble is unlikely to work in the ruling party’s favor.

Experts say the DPJ is running a huge risk of being booted from office three years after wresting power from the Liberal Democratic Party in the Dec. 16 general election, which pundits predict the LDP will win.

“It looked like Noda made the announcement in an effective manner, but in reality he was forced” to make a last-ditch effort to break the deadlock in the Diet, said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University. “Noda seems more interested in gaining a reputation as a great politician rather than doing what’s best for his party.

“He promised (in August) to dissolve the Lower House ‘soon,’ and that word became a burden for him,” Nakano added.

Even though the DPJ has yet to field candidates for about 50 of the 300 single-seat constituencies for the Lower House poll, Noda ultimately “did not have any choice” but to dissolve the chamber, Nakano said.

Noda promised the leaders of the LDP and New Komeito in August that he would dissolve the House of Representatives sometime “soon” in exchange for their support in passing his key bill to hike the sales tax. But with no dissolution in sight three months on, he found himself routinely labeled a “liar” by the opposition.

Within the ruling camp, meanwhile, several Cabinet ministers were reportedly considering resigning in protest over Noda’s intention to dissolve the Lower House by the end of December — a development that would have further weakened his authority and put him in an even tighter jam.

There had also been much speculation recently that more lawmakers were thinking of quitting the DPJ, while its internal anti-Noda faction, which fiercely opposes his planned sales tax hike, was stepping up efforts to replace him as party president.

Six DPJ members have announced they will leave the party this week, among them former farm minister Masahiko Yamada, who voiced his intention to resign Thursday, and ex-Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa, who is expected to join Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s fledgling Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) national group.

If these six members carry through on their threat, the ruling coalition’s presence in the Lower House would be reduced to 239 lawmakers in total, meaning it would no longer hold a majority in the chamber.

Opposition parties would then be able to pass a no-confidence motion against Noda’s administration in the chamber, leaving him with just two options: to resign en masse with his Cabinet, or to immediately dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

As the nation gears up to go to the polls Dec. 16, DPJ executives are busy calling for internal unity due to their apparent fears about the growing number of deserters.

“Noda was determined to show leadership to change the country even if it meant we would have a hard time. I want all of us to be united and survive this crisis,” DPJ Deputy Secretary General Jun Azumi, who is in charge of the DPJ poll campaign, said at a party meeting Thursday.

With the Cabinet’s support rating plunging to a record low, an early election is the last thing DPJ members wanted to see at this stage. According to a survey conducted over the weekend by the Asahi Shimbun, the popularity rate of Noda’s Cabinet has fallen to an anemic 18 percent.