LDP, Liberal Party electoral cooperation talks collapse

Working-level electoral cooperation talks between the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party broke down Friday, arousing speculation that Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa might again threaten to break away from the coalition before the next general election.

The two parties’ talks on possible cooperation in the next elections ended as Hideo Watanabe, deputy chairman of the Liberal Party’s election affairs committee, turned down an LDP offer.

The Liberal Party had earlier demanded that the LDP coordinate its candidates with them in 26 single-seat constituencies so that the two parties would not have to compete against each other in those constituencies.

On Friday, however, the LDP notified the Liberal Party that it will make such adjustments, including withdrawal of LDP candidates, in only 10 out of the 26 constituencies.

With the working-level talks deadlocked, the electoral cooperation arrangements will be left in the hands of the secretaries general or even the top leaders of both parties, according to officials.

“The LDP and (the Liberal Party) have jointly implemented policies and our understanding is that electoral cooperation and policy are two sides of the same coin,” the Liberal Party’s Watanabe told a press conference.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party Secretary General Hirohisa Fujii maintained that time still remains, explaining that his party is asking the LDP to make its final decision on the issues by the end of this month.

The failure of the electoral talks coincided with a media report that Ozawa secretly visited Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi earlier this month to urge him to realize the two conservative parties’ merger.

Ozawa reportedly demanded that Obuchi make up his mind on the merger within the month, saying that the Liberal Party would break away from the coalition if the answer was negative.

At a Friday press conference, LDP Secretary General Yoshiro Mori neither confirmed nor denied the report, while some in political circles openly state that Ozawa’s breakaway is very likely.

“The possibility of Mr. Ozawa leaving the coalition by the next general election is greater (than that of Ozawa remaining there),” Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, told a seminar for editorial writers in Tokyo later in the day.

“With that provided, we can discuss the possibility of creating a new, DPJ-led government when the united front of the LDP and New Komeito fails to secure a majority of the (Lower House) seats,” Hatoyama said.