Political kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa took a step toward forming a new party when he and 49 other lawmakers submitted letters of resignation to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan on July 2.
However, the number of potential defectors indicates that Ozawa’s plan may fall short of immediately affecting Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s drive to raise the consumption tax rate.
According to sources, 38 Lower House members and 12 from the Upper House submitted their resignation letters, which are expected to be accepted by DPJ executives. The rebels are expected to establish a new party by the end of July.
As things stand now, the depleted DPJ would still hold a majority in the Lower House. In addition, Ozawa will have to persuade more Upper House members to leave the ruling party to upset procedures on increasing the consumption tax rate.
The more powerful Lower House has already passed bills to double the consumption tax rate to 10 percent by 2015, and the legislation is awaiting deliberations in the Upper House for enactment.
Although the opposition parties now collectively control the Upper House, the DPJ has the largest caucus in the chamber. Following long-established tradition, a member of the largest caucus has been chosen Upper House president, and currently, the chairs of many important Upper House committees come from the DPJ.
All that would change if 19 DPJ Upper House members left the party fold, making the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party the largest force in the Upper House.
Noda has already conceded on a number of policy issues with the LDP to ensure Lower House passage of the tax bills. If the LDP controlled the Upper House, it could make further demands of the prime minister, including dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election, for final passage of the tax bills.
Such a development would seriously hurt Azuma Koshiishi, who is not only DPJ secretary-general, but also chairman of the party's Upper House caucus.
Ozawa, long known as a “destroyer” of parties, is calling on other DPJ members to join him in his new party. He met with Iwate Governor Takuya Tasso on July 1 and asked for his cooperation.
"We cannot accept the move to raise the consumption tax rate first," Ozawa said. "People will say the DPJ is a party of liars. I ask for your cooperation based on an understanding of our argument and actions."
Iwate is Ozawa's home prefecture, and his meeting with Tasso was seen as an attempt to solidify unity among DPJ lawmakers from that northern prefecture.
Ozawa and his Lower House colleagues voted against the consumption tax legislation last week, and DPJ executives were considering disciplinary measures against the rebels.
Koshiishi, who has been trying to keep the ruling party together, has been seeking leniency against the Lower House rebels, hoping to limit the number of DPJ defectors.
However, Noda is stressing cooperation with the LDP and New Komeito in the Upper House to pass the legislation and make it law.
The prime minister has indicated he would call for stiff measures against party rebels but would likely stop short of banishing them. If he expelled all 57 Lower House members who voted against the bills, the DPJ would become a minority in the chamber.
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