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Staff writer

“Do you all want to board the Titanic?” asked Shin Sakurai, deputy policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party. “Do you all want to be in a situation like last year’s Upper House election?”

Sakurai and his boss, LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei, found themselves suddenly on the defensive Tuesday during a meeting of the social policy panel. Each of the members took turns attacking their proposal to suspend premium payments for the public-care insurance system to be launched in April.

The proposal, battered by every member on the panel, was criticized as being a thinly veiled plan the public would quickly recognize as an effort to pander to voters before the next general election, which must be held by October 2000.

Sakurai retaliated by bringing up the bitter memory of last year’s Upper House election, when the LDP suffered a crushing setback over then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s failure to put the economy back on track.

Sakurai’s response spotlighted the LDP’s shaky position on the politically sensitive issue of raising social security spending. One economic failure for which Hashimoto was blamed was the large increases in social security payments, which many economists say threw cold water on an economy that was starting to recover.

The ambush came in the 11th hour of negotiations Kamei was holding on the public-care system with the LDP’s partners — the Liberal Party and New Komeito. Both basically support his proposals.

Following the panel’s surprise attack on the LDP policy chief, Kamei said Wednesday that he would quell the internal dispute and reach a conclusion with the coalition partners this afternoon.

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