Amid criticism from some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, the LDP’s annual convention on Wednesday endorsed Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s call for “one more push” on the economy in the hopes of getting it back on track through massive deficit spending. During a speech at a Tokyo hotel before an audience of about 2,900 LDP Diet members, local party members and representatives from a variety of interest groups that support the LDP, Obuchi spoke in mixed metaphors about the state of the economy. “Dawn is just around the corner,” he said. “We definitely need one more push to see daybreak.” The prime minister also vowed to lead the ruling party to victory in the next general election, which must be held by October. “In order for us to take responsibility for Japanese politics in the 21st century and carry out various policies, we must win this election,” Obuchi said. “I promise to do my utmost as leader of the party’s 3 million members.” He gave no hint as to when he may call the election, only saying he will make a decision “while taking into account all aspects of Japan’s current situation.” But he also warned party members to be ready “to deal promptly with any situation.” Recently, opposition forces and some LDP members, notably former Secretary General Koichi Kato, have stepped up criticism of Obuchi’s policy of repeatedly stretching budgets with huge issues of government bonds. LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei came to the prime minister’s defense, strongly condemning those forces calling for austerity. “I cannot help but call those supporting structural fiscal reforms extremely thoughtless,” a stern-faced Kamei said. “Even a kid realizes that you should first recover and stabilize the economy before (carrying out) structural reforms.” Fiscal policy is expected to be a major focus of debate between the ruling and opposition camps in an ordinary Diet session that starts today, and a determining factor in the Lower House general election. New Komeito, which had long been in the opposition camp before entering a three-way coalition with the LDP last year, had a presence at the LDP convention for the first time. “I’ve been in political circles for 17 years but I’ve come to an LDP meeting for the first time,” said New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki, who was invited as a guest. Kanzaki pledged to maintain his party’s ties with the LDP, saying New Komeito is determined to support the LDP despite criticism of its participation in the unpopular coalition, which also includes the Liberal Party. Major religious groups that had supported the LDP did not send representatives to the meeting to protest the LDP’s decision to welcome New Komeito into the ruling bloc. New Komeito is backed by Soka Gakkai, the nation’s largest lay Buddhist group, which has long been in confrontation with many other religious groups. Liberal Party chief Ichiro Ozawa also attended the meeting as a representative of the LDP’s junior coalition partner.
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