Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister
Taro Aso may face a struggle to keep his job after his ruling
bloc was soundly defeated in a weekend Tokyo election seen as a
bellwether for a national poll to be held within three months.|
Aso told senior ruling party lawmakers on Sunday he planned
to dissolve parliament's lower house as early as Tuesday and was
set to unveil that plan on Monday, Kyodo news agency reported,
adding the likely date for the vote would be Aug. 8.
But many in the ruling bloc are opposed to a move they fear
would be political suicide.
Aso's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner
lost their majority in the Tokyo assembly, while the opposition
Democratic Party won the most seats in the vote, which is
considered a barometer for the national election.
LDP executive Nobuteru Ishihara, asked earlier if the party
would fight the general election under Aso, dodged the question.
"That the LDP could not unify including on this point (Aso's
leadership) is one reason for this harsh judgment," he said. "If
we don't overcome this, we cannot regain the trust of the
Ishihara added that while a decision on when to call an
election was up to Aso, he felt time was needed to re-unite the
NHK public TV said Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura
and LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda agreed in talks on
Sunday the outcome of the Tokyo vote would not affect national
politics and Aso would not be blamed for a defeat.
However, Kyodo quoted another unidentified ruling party
executive as saying: "This is a great blow against the Aso
Media said some younger LDP lawmakers who have expressed
dissatisfaction with Aso met at a Tokyo hotel on Sunday night.
The long-ruling LDP has been racked by internal strife of
late, with Aso critics openly urging an early party leadership
vote to replace him while his allies defend his right to call a
general election at a time of his own choosing.
"There will be confusion inside the LDP. People will try to
oust Aso and he will try to stay on," said Keio University
political science professor Yasunori Sone.
"It is not clear if they can oust him and if they did, would
support for the LDP increase? Not much," Sone said. "Chances the
LDP could win under a new leader are very small. That has become
clearer as a result of this Tokyo election."
A Democratic Party victory in the lower house election would
end half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the
business-friendly LDP and raise the chances of resolving a
deadlock in a divided parliament as Japan tries to recover from
its worst recession since World War Two.
Aso's term as LDP leader expires in September and his
critics in the party are keen to bring forward the leadership
vote to replace him ahead of the general election.
Possible candidates to replace Aso include Minister of
Health, Labour and Welfare Yoichi Masuzoe, 60, a former academic
and TV commentator seen as competent and hardworking.
But Aso is Japan's third premier to take office since
Junichiro Koizumi led the party to a huge win in a 2005
election, so voters might not be impressed with another change
at the top.
The Democrats, hoping to intensify pressure on the ruling
bloc, are considering submitting a no-confidence motion against
Aso in the lower house.
But Japan's biggest opposition party has its own headache.
Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama has apologised for
the fact that some people listed as his political donors were
dead. But the LDP -- although far from immune to scandals itself
-- is pressing for him to appear in parliament over the affair.
Hatoyama took over as party leader in May after his
predecessor stepped down to keep a separate fundraising scandal
from hurting the party's chances at the polls. (Additional
reporting by Yoko Kubota, editing by Mark Trevelyan)