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The Social Democratic Party will announce an amicable divorce from the Liberal Democratic Party as early as Saturday, four years after forming an unlikely alliance of left and right in part to enable the LDP to return to power.

After the alliance breaks up the LDP will return as Japan’s sole ruling party, the same role it played from 1955 until August 1993.

Senior SDP members said they held a plenary session Thursday morning and agreed to leave a decision to the party’s three top leaders, including SDP head Takako Doi, on the exact timing of the termination of its alliance with the LDP and New Party Sakigake. Sakigake has said it will follow the SDP’s lead and also leave the alliance.

Doi and the two other party executives met Thursday afternoon and again later in the evening to decide the specific date of the breakup, party officials said. They also discussed, according to the officials, how they would explain to the public their decision and what the SDP can be expected to achieve after its departure from the alliance as a mere No. 5 opposition party with just 15 members in the House of Representatives.

SDP officials have repeatedly hinted that the party would leave the alliance, but Doi never officially said any firm decision had been made to do so. In a speech at the Japan Teachers Union in Tokyo on Thursday morning, Doi implied that the final decision is imminent. “I am aware that this is a time for me to make an important decision for my party,” she said.

The number of LDP members in the powerful Lower House fell from 274 to 223 following the July 1993 general election, ousting the party from power for the first time since 1955. The LDP was succeeded by a coalition of opposition parties, including the SDP, in August 1993, which formed a government headed by Morihiro Hosokawa, former chief of the Japan New Party.

But the LDP made a surprise comeback to power in June 1994 in partnership with the SDP and Sakigake under then Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. The LDP and SDP had been political enemies for nearly four decades.

Following the LDP’s narrow win in the October 1996 general election, the SDP and Sakigake decided to downgrade their relations and removed their members from the Cabinet. The three have continued to act as a ruling alliance, however.

Last September, the LDP regained a simple majority in the Lower House after allowing a number of former Shinshinto members to return to the party fold.

Despite the SDP’s plan to leave, it has continued to associate in a friendly manner with the LDP, attending all meetings to discuss the three parties’ joint policies.

Recent disagreements with the LDP over a bill to counter influence-peddling are expected to be cited as the main reason for the breakup.

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