Rebels return to haunt LDP

An aftereffect of the legislative battle over postal service privatization a year ago now vexes the Liberal Democratic Party leadership. It is how to treat Diet members who rebelled against the party by voting against the privatization bills.

Of about 60 Lower and Upper house LDP members who cast “no” votes, nearly 40 were told to leave the party. Even though many of these rebels are no longer party members, some of them still possess political resources that the party leadership would like to tap in next year’s Upper House election. The problem the LDP leadership faces is how to smoothly bring them back into the party’s fold.

Thirteen of the rebels were re-elected to the Lower House in the Sept. 11, 2005, general elections. They, as well as some rebels who were unsuccessful in the elections, still maintain strong election machines that can influence the voting behavior of many local residents.

The LDP leadership cannot afford to let these resources remain idle or, worse, allow the rebels to go over to the camp of the Democratic Party of Japan, the No. 1 opposition party, in the Upper House election.

But if the LDP leadership accepts rebels back into the party’s fold before the start of the election campaign in exchange for their promise to cooperate, the public will tend to regard the move as opportunistic. Moreover, not only are LDP Diet members who ran and won in the same constituencies as the rebels unlikely to accept the idea, but the idea of rejoining the LDP may go against the conscience of some rebels.

DPJ head Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, like the LDP leadership, is keenly aware of the resources the ex-LDP rebels offer. He has succeeded in convincing one rebel, who failed to win his race in Tottori Prefecture in the 2005 general elections, to join the DPJ camp. If Mr. Ozawa succeeds in convincing former LDP Diet members in 29 one-seat Upper House constituencies to join his party, it will considerably boost his party’s fortunes.

The LDP badly needs justification to go ahead with its plan to bring the rebels back into its fold. The problem is that its harsh treatment of them is still fresh in people’s memories.