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Japan PM faces uphill battle for party, Parliament unity

Publication Date : 23-09-2012


Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's reelection by a large margin as the Democratic Party of Japan's president was partly accomplished because many DPJ members simply felt there was no better choice.

Such members supported Noda because other candidates were not seen as strong enough rivals.

Moves to leave the DPJ among midranking and junior members have not shown signs of slowing down, and thus Noda's political foothold is being shaken.

His overwhelming victory in the party leadership election will not necessarily give the Noda administration much leverage. Noda likely faces a tough road ahead.

"I'm not smiling." Noda said this phrase twice in his speech after being reelected as DPJ president. With the phrase, Noda frankly conveyed that the political circumstances surrounding him are not favourable.

Noda garnered about 70 per cent of the vote from rank-and-file DPJ members and registered party supporters, and was ranked top in Tokyo, Hokkaido and 41 other prefectures.

However, voter turnout was the lowest ever for a DPJ election at 33.7 per cent. Political observers reasoned this was due to the belief Noda's reelection was certain from the early stages, and thus the race lacked steam.

But some DPJ members believe the turnout demonstrated that the public has lost interest in the DPJ.

Among Diet members, Noda won 211 votes, more than 60 per cent. But one midranking lawmaker of an intraparty group led by Michihiko Kano, who also ran in the leadership race, said, "A sizable number of party members supported Noda because of a lack of other viable candidates."

A total of 114 Diet ballots were cast for candidates other than Noda. The number exceeded the pro-Noda group's initial prediction that it would not surpass 100.

Other candidates fiercely held Noda accountable for splitting the party. Conflicts over management of the administration have nearly reached a boiling point.

The fragility of the DPJ's union was also indicated by the fact that five party members abstained from voting.

Aside from Takahiro Yokomichi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the four are members who either plan to leave the DPJ to join Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) or are considering it.

Former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yorihisa Matsuno, lower house member Takashi Ishiseki and House of Councillors member Masashi Mito have shown their intention to join Nippon Ishin no Kai. Masato Imai, a lower house member, is considering joining the new party as well.

In addition, six party lawmakers cast invalid ballots. Because the voting was anonymous, their identities are unknown.

One DPJ member said, "They may be giving up on the party as they oppose the prime minister's ways of managing the administration."

The DPJ is currently in a tough situation over its numbers of Diet seats.

In the lower house, not counting the three members who plan to join Nippon Ishin no Kai, the ruling camp will fall below the 239 seats needed for a majority if nine more members leave. This assumes all seats in the People's New Party remain in the ruling coalition.

The number in the upper house's parliamentary group led by the DPJ is set to fall to 87, equal to the seats held by the Liberal Democratic Party, because Mito has submitted his resignation from the DPJ.

If the DPJ falls to a secondary position, managing upper house affairs will also become difficult.

In his speech just after the election, Noda expressed his intention to reshuffle the DPJ leadership and his Cabinet to improve cooperation as a team.

The prime minister's aides had initially considered enacting the personnel changes after Noda returns from his upcoming visit to the U.N. General Assembly.

By mentioning a leadership change to promote party unity early, Noda aims to restrain party members who are considering leaving the DPJ.

At a press conference Friday, Noda suggested appointing lower house members in their first Diet term to such posts as parliamentary secretary.

"Until now, we have not asked those in their first Diet term to play [more direct] roles in government. To take advantage of their capabilities, I'd like to create a framework in which all of us will work hard [together]," Noda said.

Some political observers said the announcement was made to appease party members in their first Diet term, many of whom are seen as would-be defectors.

The prime minister has also had difficulty dealing with opposition parties.

Diet affairs cannot progress unless the Noda administration builds cooperative ties with the LDP and New Komeito, but asking for their collaboration will result in fresh demands that the lower house be dissolved.

Most DPJ lawmakers want to delay the dissolution of the lower house as long as possible.

A Noda aide said, "The prime minister thinks the issue of the lower house dissolution may drastically change depending on who becomes the new LDP president."

Currently Noda is facing a dilemma in prioritising unity within the DPJ while managing Diet affairs.


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