Related News

Home » World

Japan opposition leader quits ahead of election

JAPANESE opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa resigned today to try to restore his party's prospects in a looming election, after a fundraising scandal dampened its hopes for victory.

A political stalemate and voter frustrations with Prime Minister Taro Aso had raised the chances Ozawa would lead his Democratic Party to victory in an election that must be held by October, ending more than 50 years of nearly unbroken rule by Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

But the Democratic Party's lead in polls has narrowed after the scandal, clouding the outlook for the solid opposition victory that would break a deadlock that is stalling policy decisions as Japan struggles with a deep recession.

"I have decided to sacrifice myself and resign as party leader to strengthen the unity of the party towards a clear victory in the next election and achieve a change in government," Ozawa told a news conference.

Analysts said the change at the top would improve the Democrats' chances at the poll, though not guarantee that all the damage was undone.

"Things had gotten very tough. People were complaining about Ozawa," said independent political commentator Minoru Morita. "This improves the outlook for the Democrats quite a lot."

Analysts said Ozawa's exit opened the way for a younger leader, with possible candidates including former party leaders Katsuya Okada, an advocate of tougher climate policies and Seiji Maehara, a conservative security policy expert.

"He made a wise, respectable decision," senior Democratic Party lawmaker Kozo Watanabe told reporters of Ozawa's decision to go. "We must think about how to manage the future of the party while respecting his wishes."

The Democrats have vowed to reduce bureaucrats' meddling in policy-making, stress the rights of consumers and workers over corporate interests, and adopt a diplomatic policy less subservient to security ally the United States.

The news had little impact on financial markets, with the yen trading a touch lower after an initial media report, but broadly unchanged on the day.


How far Ozawa's resignation goes toward improving the Democrats' chances depends at least in part on who replaces him, and how smoothly.

"It is a necessary step toward fixing the image problem. Now the question is whom do they chose, how do they chose him and how does he perform," said Gerry Curtis, a Columbia University professor and expert in Japanese politics.

A survey by the mass circulation Yomiuri newspaper published today showed the Democrats still had a razor-thin lead over the LDP, but that more than two-thirds of voters responding to the poll questioned Ozawa's earlier decision to stay on.

Surveys before the scandal had shown the Democratic Party with a clear lead.

The poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper showed 30 percent of respondents would vote for the Democratic Party in proportional representation districts at the election, against 27 percent who said they would vote for the LDP.

Ozawa had said he would decide whether to quit over the funding scandal based on the outlook for his party winning the vote, which the media has speculated could be held in August.

Aso has threatened to call an early election if the Democrats obstruct debate in parliament on a massive extra budget to fight the recession, but it was unclear what impact Ozawa's resignation would have on the election timing.

"The ruling coalition might have wanted Ozawa to stay on," said Hidenori Suezawa, chief strategist at Daiwa Securities SMBC.

"Now that he's gone, Prime Minister Aso might become more aggressive in economic stimulus to woo voters, rather than dissolving parliament now."

While support for Aso's cabinet fell to 10 percent in one TV survey three months ago, the Yomiuri survey today showed support now at 28.7 percent, in line with a survey by broadcaster TBS, which put support at 31.4 percent.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend