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The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is expected to make a formal decision early next week on suspending the party membership of Koichiro Watanabe, a Lower House lawmaker who has been rebelling against Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s leadership, lawmakers said Friday.

Senior DPJ lawmakers have recommended that Watanabe’s party membership be suspended for six months after he abstained this week from voting on the government’s budget plan for fiscal 2011 in the Lower House.

An ethics panel meeting of the DPJ discussed the proposal and decided it will hold a hearing for Watanabe on Tuesday, the lawmakers said.

The DPJ’s Standing Officers Council is also expected to formally decide on whether to suspend his party membership Tuesday, they said, adding the council is widely seen as unlikely to overturn the original recommendation.

Watanabe and 15 other DPJ lawmakers considered loyal to former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa, under indictment over a political funding scandal and Kan’s rival, launched a revolt against the prime minister’s leadership in mid-February.

The 15 lawmakers, almost all of them elected for the first time in 2009, also skipped the Diet vote Tuesday. But only Watanabe, regarded as the rebellion’s leader, has been slapped with a suspension. The rest have been reprimanded by the leadership, but were not subject to the ethics panel’s discussions.

Their abstentions represented the latest sign that Kan, also president of the DPJ, is losing his grip on the party.

Ozawa backs boycott

Former Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa has said the 16 DPJ members who recently boycotted a Diet vote on the budget were perfectly entitled to act as they saw fit on the issue.

The lawmakers “acted on their own judgment as Diet lawmakers so others have no business or right” to tell them what to do, Ozawa told a news conference via the Internet on Thursday.

The 16, all known to be close to Ozawa, did not participate in the vote on the fiscal 2011 budget in the Lower House earlier this week and were subsequently punished by the party for their actions.

Their attempt to defend the party’s pledges at the 2009 general election was one perspective, Ozawa said in referring to the DPJ’s plan to look into reviewing these pledges — a move the DPJ rebels have cited as the reason for their revolt.

Ozawa also took a jab at the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the DPJ leader, saying, “More than Mr. Kan or anyone else in the party, I wish to see Democratic Party of Japan administrations succeed.”

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