As LDP closes ranks, most stay silent on Koizumi gambit


Despite Prime Minister Taro Aso’s plummeting poll numbers, the majority of his party’s top decision-making body apparently backed his contentious cash handout program at a closed meeting Thursday, one participant said.

According to Koichi Kato, former secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, few in the roughly 30-member body appreciated former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s threat to boycott a widely expected revote on a supplementary budget to finance the ¥2 trillion program.

Koizumi said the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc shouldn’t try to force enactment of the bill, which is widely expected to be rejected in the opposition-controlled Upper House, with a revote in the coalition-dominated Lower House.

“There were just a few opinions similar to Koizumi’s,” Kato told reporters after the LDP General Council met.

“As a party, we have carried on the policy to this point and agreed at the first Lower House vote, so we can’t take it back and must keep going, although the program has become quite unpopular,” said Kato, who also has strongly criticized Aso over the years.

Koizumi, who remains one of Japan’s most popular politicians, has recently broken his silence with the press since stepping down as prime minister to slam Aso for revealing his secret dislike of the postal privatization plan. Koizumi declared Wednesday he would boycott a revote on the extra budget, which is needed to finance Aso’s stimulus program.

Koizumi’s stance has raised grave concerns among party executives who fear younger LDP members will follow him, weakening the ruling bloc’s two-thirds majority in the lower chamber that is required to override the Upper House.

But so far, few in the LDP have said they will abstain from or vote against the extra budget bill, despite their disappointment with Aso.

“We agreed. I think that fact is important,” said Yasuhisa Shiozaki, a well-regarded junior member of the party.

Takashi Sasagawa, LDP General Council chairman, said the same day the party would have to punish any members, including Koizumi, who vote against the bill or abstain from voting. He also said LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda will try to persuade Koizumi to change his mind once he returns Friday from Russia.

The contentious cash handout, the center of an economic stimulus plan spearheaded by Aso, is included in the fiscal 2008 extra budget. The bill to finance it cleared the Lower House on Jan. 13 and is now before the Upper House.