Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Thursday he will leave his post and step down as president of the Liberal Democratic Party if the three-party ruling coalition fails to retain a majority in the Nov. 9 House of Representatives general election.
The 61-year-old Koizumi, who recently prevailed in rocky efforts to get former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, 85, to retire, revealed that he may retire from politics when he turns 65.
During an interview Thursday, Koizumi said that even if the tripartite coalition loses its majority, his successor would have to decide whether the LDP would try to stay in power, possibly by aligning itself with other parties, if it retains its status as the chamber’s largest single party.
Earlier, he had said the LDP would relinquish the government helm if the bloc failed to keep its majority.
LDP members are arguing that the party should try to remain in power if it continues to be the largest party, even if it loses the slight majority it held going into the election. This would require it to form alliances with independent or opposition forces.
“The LDP’s goal is to win a majority by itself, or at least retain a majority by the three ruling parties,” Koizumi said. “If the three parties together fail to retain a majority, I would accept responsibility and step down.
“But I really can’t say what will happen next because it all depends on how the election turns out,” he said.
The ruling coalition — the LDP, New Komeito and New Conservative Party — together held 287 seats in the 480-seat Lower House when it was dissolved. The LDP alone had 247 seats, more than the majority of 241.
Koizumi said he has no intention of changing his Cabinet lineup or LDP executives after the election, as he did right after being re-elected party president in September.
“We will keep the current team. There is no need to change my ministers if they win re-election,” he said.
Touching on his retirement for the first time, Koizumi said “age 65 is one point” he is considering, as he has three more years to serve as president of the LDP.
“My father died when he was 65 while serving (as a lawmaker), so I told myself I have to work with all my soul until I become 65,” Koizumi said. “After working until 65, I believe I will want to lead a slow life.”
Koizumi admitted that the drama over efforts to get Nakasone and former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, 84, to retire was an unexpectedly embarrassing blow.
Nakasone angrily snubbed Koizumi’s calls for retirement in line with the LDP’s 73-year-old age limit on proportional representation candidates, calling Koizumi’s visit to his office “disrespectful” and “political terrorism.”
Nakasone finally gave up on running the day before the official campaign started Tuesday. Miyazawa accepted retirement only when Koizumi visited him last week.
“I had said many times that the decision should be theirs, in the hope that they would voluntarily retire,” Koizumi said. “But they took that the opposite way.”
He also said Nakasone’s claim that he paid a sudden visit to his office without prior consultation is incorrect.
“I had sent many people to him to convey my message, and when I visited him in person, I wanted to make that an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ for accepting my calls (for retirement).”
On other matters, Koizumi discounted the possible impact of former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka’s departure from the LDP and her calls for “a political realignment” with other independent candidates.
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