• Kyodo News


Kunio Hatoyama, who resigned last week as internal affairs and communications minister, did not rule out the possibility Monday of leaving the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to form a new party.

“I have no intention at the moment either to leave the LDP or to create a new party,” Hatoyama told a news conference at the internal affairs ministry. But he also suggested he may do so if circumstances change.

Hatoyama was effectively sacked Friday by Prime Minister Taro Aso after putting Aso in a bind for several weeks over the management of Japan Post Holdings Co., a body set up as a result of postal privatization reform.

Hatoyama, one of Aso’s closest allies, insisted that Yoshifumi Nishikawa be removed as head of Japan Post, while reformists and many other lawmakers in the LDP said Nishikawa should stay and press ahead with reforms.

He had said Nishikawa should be held responsible for the firm’s recent controversial attempt to sell its Kampo no Yado nationwide resort inns at what Hatoyama considered fire-sale prices.

“I like Prime Minister Aso a lot and trust him . . . and there is no change in that feeling,” he said. “But on this particular case, the prime minister made a completely wrong decision.”

Noting Aso sent him a letter earlier this year along with a list of possible candidates to replace Nishikawa, Hatoyama said they initially agreed Nishikawa should go, but Aso later changed his mind after listening to other opinions.

The evening after accepting Hatoyama’s resignation, Aso told reporters he thinks the government should not interfere with the management of a company that is moving toward privatization.

But Hatoyama retorted, “That view has no validity,” adding the law stipulates that the internal affairs minister has ultimate authority in deciding on Japan Post’s board members. Japan Post Holdings is still wholly owned by the government.

“The issue of the Kampo property sale is just the tip of the iceberg and I will continue doing my best to protect the common property of citizens,” Hatoyama said.

Even before his resignation, it had been rumored that Hatoyama wanted to leave the LDP to form a new party or to tie up with his brother, Yukio, president of the Democratic Party of Japan, amid increasing signs of their closeness.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Tsutomu Sato said Monday he will look carefully at whether Nishikawa should remain president of Japan Post, after indicating Friday he should stay.

“I made a little too bold a statement because there were some things I didn’t fully comprehend at that point in time,” said Sato, who will juggle his new duties with his existing role as National Public Safety Commission chief.

He said the business improvement order the internal affairs ministry issued to Japan Post after the aborted deal for the postal service firm to sell Kampo no Yado inns to leasing firm Orix Corp. will be key in deciding whether Nishikawa should stay on.

“I will carefully make a decision after thoroughly consulting with” Japan Post, Sato said.

Japan Post decided late last year to sell dozens of Kampo no Yado inns and nine housing facilities to Orix for ¥10.9 billion after a bid was held.

Hatoyama urged a review of the plan, arguing it looked like Japan Post and Orix knew who would win before the bidding process.

Japan Post and Orix subsequently canceled the deal.

Sato is expected to study a report Japan Post will present to the ministry describing how it will clean up its business operations before deciding how to deal with Nishikawa, given that some LDP members share Hatoyama’s view, political analysts said.

Nishikawa paid a call on Sato Monday morning and is believed to have briefed the minister about progress made in compiling the report.

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