Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa on Thursday backpedaled from his claim the previous day that he had a new, specific plan for relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and basically said the pact reached in May to move the base to Nago, Okinawa, stands.
Speaking to reporters in the first public debate with Prime Minister Naoto Kan ahead of the party’s Sept. 14 presidential election, Ozawa also touched on his possible indictment over the mismanagement of his political funds, saying, “I will not evade (any charges).”
Addressing the contentious Futenma issue, Ozawa said he intends to respect the agreement Kan’s predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, reached with Washington in May to relocate the base to Nago.
“Because most people in Okinawa are opposed to the plan, it will be difficult to carry out. We should put our heads together,” Ozawa said at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. But “it’s not that I have a specific plan at the moment.”
During a news conference Wednesday after filing his candidacy, Ozawa said he believes a solution could be reached that is acceptable to both Washington and Okinawa, although he refused to elaborate.
Ozawa’s comment triggered speculation that he may have a detailed plan in mind over the Futenma issue that contributed, along with a separate funds scandal, to Hatoyama’s resignation in early June.
Reporters also asked Ozawa his course of action over his possible indictment stemming from his own political funds scandal, if he becomes the DPJ leader and thus the next prime minister.
Ozawa faces an automatic indictment if an official judicial review panel, called the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, concludes for the second time that he should be charged with falsifying his political funds records.
Article 75 of the Constitution protects a minister from criminal charges without the consent of the prime minister.
Ozawa denied he would evade any indictment if he becomes prime minister.
Three of Ozawa’s former aides have already been indicted over the political funds scandal.
Kan, meanwhile, accused Ozawa of high-handed political practices, and called for debate and consensus-building, rather than applying pressure or holding out offers of money to win opponents to his side.
“Mr. Ozawa’s way is to show that he has abundant financial resources and the necessary numbers on his side,” said Kan. “I’m not alone in feeling this way.”
In Thursday’s debate, Kan stressed that he has been trying various options to revive the economy through job creation and increasing household income.
But when asked by Ozawa how he would deal with a divided Diet in the extraordinary session that convenes later this year, Kan merely replied that he hopes the opposition parties will join in talks to pass legislation.
Since the opposition camp, which collectively holds an Upper House majority, realizes bills cannot be passed without their votes, they will willingly come to the table, he said.
For his part, Ozawa was mum on rising speculation that he will seek a new alliance with the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force and his former party, as well as other opposition parties, if he takes the helm.
“I will make comments after I am elected,” he said.
On the economic front, Ozawa said he would not push for a consumption tax hike for the next four years and instead focus on slashing wasteful spending.
Kan expressed hope that debate with opposition parties on tax revision, including the sales tax, will begin during the extraordinary Diet session.
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