In a last-minute move, the Democratic Party of Japan on Tuesday abandoned a plan to remove Mr. Yukio Ubukata, a vice secretary general of the party, from his post. The removal of Mr. Ubukata, a Lower House member, had been planned as punishment for his public criticism of DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa. The change of plan was due to concern that dismissing Mr. Ubukata could create the damaging impression that the party was suppressing its members’ right to free speech.

In an interview published March 17 in Sankei Shimbun, Mr. Ubukata criticized Mr. Ozawa for abolishing the DPJ’s policy affairs research council in the name of consolidating policy-related decision making in the Cabinet. Mr. Ubukata had organized an intraparty faction that is pressing for the policy body to be revived. He said in the interview: “The DPJ has lost energy. This is because a policy forum in which DPJ members can freely discuss things is gone.”

Apparently referring to Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Ubukata said, “In the current DPJ, power and financial resources are in the hands of one person.” He also called on Mr. Ozawa to give a full, public explanation of his funds scandal.

The day after the interview was published, DPJ Senior Vice Secretary General Yoshimitsu Takashima called on Mr. Ubukata to resign from his post for criticizing another member of the party leadership in public. Mr. Ubukata refused. Later the same day, all of the party’s vice secretary generals except Mr. Ubukata gathered and decided to relieve him of his post. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama consented to the decision.

Party insiders said Mr. Ubukata should have voiced his concerns at internal meetings. Mr. Kenji Yamaoka, the DPJ’s Diet tactics chief, said, “Although we held several dozen meetings in the past half year, he showed up only twice.”

The DPJ leadership surely realizes it is desirable for DPJ lawmakers to have free and productive discussions when examining government-sponsored bills and policy matters. Crucial to achieving this is for lawmakers to feel they can speak frankly to the party leadership.

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