DPJ trio to form new party

Defectors seek to band with two independents also in Upper House

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Only two weeks from the start of the extraordinary Diet session, three Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers will leave the DPJ to form a new political party with two Upper House independent lawmakers, officials said.

The three DPJ lawmakers are Hideo Watanabe, a former posts minister, Yasuhiro Oe and Yumiko Himei, all of whom are House of Councilors lawmakers. They have already submitted their resignations to the DPJ, the party said.

The three were reportedly dissatisfied with the current situation of the party led by Ichiro Ozawa, who is likely to be reinstalled without a vote at next month’s DPJ presidential election.

Two other Upper House members, Hiroyuki Arai and Shinpei Matsushita, both currently unaffiliated, are expected to join the new party to be named Kaikaku Kurabu (Reform Club).

The five lawmakers are scheduled to hold a news conference Friday afternoon to announce the creation of the new party and explain their plan of action.

Watanabe, who served as posts minister under former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, is expected to become the leader of the new party. Watanabe’s office declined comment, saying that details will be given at Friday’s press conference.

Watanabe and Oe opposed the DPJ’s position earlier this year that road-related taxes should be abolished, as well as the party’s opposition to the ruling bloc’s Bank of Japan vice governor picks during the last Diet session.

“They submitted resignations, but they have not been accepted yet,” DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said after a party executive meeting the same day. “The reason is that they became politicians by receiving support from DPJ supporters.”

Because of the support they received, “this is such a treacherous act,” he said, adding if they want to leave the party, they should resign as Diet members, which he and other DPJ executives think is the decent thing to do.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was quick in his attempt to pry open the crack in the largest opposition party. He told reporters Thursday evening that the ruling bloc may be able to cooperate with the new party.

“I think it is possible to work together if parts of (the new party’s) policies or ideas match ours,” Fukuda said. “It is natural to cooperate in the Diet if (our) policies coincide with theirs — that can be said for any” lawmaker or political party.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told a news conference later Thursday that he was not surprised by the move of the three DPJ members.

“Looking at the voting patterns (of lawmakers) in the previous ordinary Diet session, I had a feeling something like this was going to happen,” Machimura said. “I take it that creating a new party has major political meaning.”

Meanwhile, he declined comment when asked whether the government is hopeful that the new party might eventually help normalize the divided Diet by siding with the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition.