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The Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party remain at odds over how they might pursue campaign cooperation in the next general election of the Lower House, as speculation continues to grow that it will be held sometime this year.

While the Liberal Party is proposing that the two parties create a unified roster of proportional representation candidates — a move that could pave way for their future integration — the DPJ wants to limit the cooperation to adjusting candidates in single-seat constituencies, according to sources with the two opposition parties.

In the background is the deep-rooted distrust among many DPJ lawmakers toward Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa — an issue that was highlighted last year when the two parties discussed a possible merger, the sources said.

“If no progress is seen on the matter by the time the regular Diet session opens (on Jan. 20), we will make our own preparations,” Ozawa told a gathering of party members in Tokyo on Jan. 1.

Hideo Watanabe, chief of the party’s election affairs, also said, “The Liberal Party is confident of increasing our Diet seats on our own, but we are ready to cooperate if the DPJ is ready to seek a grand opposition alliance in its bid to take government power.”

Despite such remarks, the DPJ remains cautious on committing to far-reaching campaign cooperation with the Liberal Party. In a meeting between DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada and his Liberal Party counterpart Hirohisa Fujii, the two sides agreed the question of a joint roster for proportional representation candidates will be further discussed after the Diet session convenes.

While the current four-year term of Lower House members runs through June 2004, it is widely speculated that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose two-year term as LDP president expires in September, will dissolve the chamber for a snap election this year. Koizumi has repeatedly denied planning any such dissolution.

The opposition parties have been pursuing possible cooperation in their campaign strategies so that they can take full advantage of anti-LDP votes.

One major reason behind the reluctance on the part of the DPJ is that, according to party sources, many DPJ members feel “allergic” to Ozawa.

Many of those DPJ members have worked with Ozawa over the past decade as he served as a key person in a series of realignment of political parties over the past decade. They complain about Ozawa’s often high-handed approach.

Their distrust of Ozawa came to the surface when Yukio Hatoyama, then DPJ chief, effectively proposed a merger with the Liberal Party in late November.

Hatoyama came under fire for the proposal from among DPJ ranks and was eventually forced to step down.

A source close to Kan says close cooperation with the Liberal Party would be a double-edged sword, although he acknowledges Ozawa’s skill as a strategist.

“We may increase our Diet seats by working together with Mr. Ozawa, but I am afraid that more DPJ members may leave the party as a result,” he said. The DPJ has suffered defections of seven lawmakers since December.

Kan admits that the DPJ cannot afford to entirely give up on campaign cooperation with the Liberal Party, according to lawmakers close to him.

The Liberal Party, on the other hand, stands little chance of substantially increasing its Diet seats without a tieup with the largest opposition party, particularly in single-seat constituencies where major parties have an advantage over smaller forces.

Kan voices support

Naoto Kan, chief of the Democratic Party of Japan, indicated Monday he will cooperate with the ruling coalition in its dealings with North Korea.

On Pyongyang’s recent announcement that it will withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Kan said: “This is not an issue on which the ruling and opposition camps are supposed to confront each other. This is very dangerous for Japan as well. We must do our best to make North Korea rescind its announcement.”

Kan’s remarks came during a speech on the streets of Machida, western Tokyo.

Regarding a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, Kan said: “We cannot condone the U.S. attack before seeing the results of U.N. inspections (for suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq). Action based on due process is necessary for world peace.”

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