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LDP leaves opposition leadership in disarray

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Twenty years after the Liberal Democratic Party was kicked out of power for the first time since it was formed in 1955, the mighty LDP is back again, as if the clock had been turned back to that pivotal event in 1993.

The LDP’s landslide victory in Sunday’s Upper House election has given the opposition’s leaders, Democratic Party of Japan head Banri Kaieda and Secretary-General Goshi Hosono, a tough choice: quit to clear the party’s image or stick to their guns, leaving their fate in the hands of the party.

Kaieda, despite the DPJ’s biggest loss in the chamber since its inception in 1996, has opted to stay on, while Hosono has hinted he will likely step down.

“The DPJ is still on its way to regain the trust of the people. I’d like to continue efforts toward that goal,” Kaieda told a news conference Sunday night.

Usually, a leader who takes his party to defeat like the one the DPJ suffered would step down to take responsibility.

But with no major election expected in the coming three years, few DPJ executives appear willing to take the helm to rebuild the heavily damaged party, one apparent reason why Kaieda is trying to stay on in his current position.

Meanwhile, Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), led by Ichiro Ozawa, who bolted from the LDP in 1993 and who played a leading role in starting the political turmoil that has continued to this day, came up empty-handed in Sunday’s election.

The party even lost a seat in Iwate’s prefectural constituency, his stoutly defended home turf, shattering Ozawa’s reputation as a top election strategist.

The election results underlined the apparent end of the post-1993 realignment of political parties centered on Ozawa, who once served as DPJ president.

“I think the election results are very severe. But it is the judgment of the people,” Ozawa told a news conference Sunday evening. However, despite the poor results, he is expected to remain Seikatsu no To president.

Leaders of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which won only eight seats, might face difficult choices, too.

During Sunday’s election, party co-leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said party officials attending an executive meeting set for later this month will decide whether he should step down.

Ishin’s other co-leader, former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, flatly denied during a Sunday news conference that either he or Hashimoto will resign.

But concerns have been raised over his health. Ishihara had a stroke in February and was unable to stump for other candidates ahead of Sunday’s election.

“I’m OK. I’ll keep working while consulting with my doctor every day,” Ishihara told the news conference.

Meanwhile, whether LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba will keep his post was another hot topic making the rounds of Nagata-cho, the epicenter of the nation’s politics.

Ishiba, who remains popular with voters, has been regarded as a potential rival and successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His next post will greatly affect the post-Abe race among LDP executives.

Asked if he might be willing to accept a Cabinet post, Ishiba declined to comment.