The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party on Monday agreed to launch five project teams on five key issues in an effort to continue their talks toward establishing a coalition government.
The planned coalition hit a new snag Monday when the Liberal Party expressed dissatisfaction with the LDP’s “insincere” attitude. A scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa Monday morning was canceled.
The meeting was to finalize a policy agreement between the two parties. However, they failed to narrow differences over security issues in working-level talks Sunday.
To pave the way for a rescheduling of the top leaders’ talks, the secretaries general of both parties met and agreed to continue efforts toward the top-level discussions.
Yoshiro Mori, secretary general of the LDP, said the LDP and the Liberal Party will sincerely work together to realize policies.
The secretaries general also decided to establish five project teams to work on five key issues, and selected team members.
The first team will work on the abolishment of the system in which bureaucrats answer questions addressed to Cabinet ministers during Diet deliberations as well as the possible introduction of a vice ministerial system.
The six members of the second project team will discuss reducing the number of Lower and Upper House members by 50. The third team, including policy chiefs of the two parties, will aim to establish common principles in national security.
The two remaining teams will handle administrative reform and economic policies, such as tax reforms, according to Mori.
The first and the third teams are to begin talks today.
Mori told reporters after a meeting with Liberal Party Secretary General Takeshi Noda that the formal launch of the teams will pave the way for the Obuchi-Ozawa talks.
“I think the preconditions for the top leaders’ meeting are already met,” he said, adding that he believes the meeting will take place by the end of today at the latest.
Earlier in the day, Ozawa told reporters that promoting discussions between the two parties to realize a basic policy accord is a precondition for holding a top-level meeting.
“Although the two top leaders agreed on a basic policy accord, I cannot see any enthusiasm among LDP members to realize the agreement,” Ozawa said. “It is not that I am refusing to meet Obuchi, but that it is more important to move policy discussions forward beforehand.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka suggested Monday that the planned coalition may collapse if the opposition party insists on an active participation by Japan’s military in rear-area support for multinational forces under the United Nations.
If the Liberal Party seeks a new military role, including one over Article 9 of the Constitution, it is inevitable the two parties will have to step back and reconsider the coalition plan, Nonaka told reporters in the Okinawan capital of Naha.
Article 9 renounces the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
The Liberal Party’s stiffened attitude reflects its dissatisfaction with the LDP, which has resisted most of its demands.
Obuchi’s intention of offering the post of home affairs minister to Ozawa also fueled anger among Liberal Party members, who demanded their leader receive the post of deputy prime minister if he enters the Cabinet.
The main policy differences between the two parties concern the role of the Self-Defense Forces under U.N. and multinational forces.
During Sunday’s working-level meeting, the Liberal Party urged the LDP to adopt the idea of promoting more active SDF participation in rear-area support and other activities, such as inspections at sea, for multinational forces, in the event such forces are established under a U.N. resolution, party sources said.
The government maintains that participation in multinational forces by the SDF is not allowed under the Constitution.
Ozawa proposed that the current interpretation of the Constitution be changed to allow for an expanded SDF role.
The Liberal Party also demanded that bureaucrat participation in Diet deliberations be reduced to a minimum, party officials said.
Obuchi and Ozawa signed a basic accord in November to form a coalition government, and on Dec. 19 they agreed on three key policies, including formation of a new Cabinet with 18 ministers — two less than the current 20.
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