In June 1993, 54 lawmakers bolted from the ruling party, which was replaced by a coalition government two months later. Nearly two decades later, on July 2, 50 lawmakers left the ruling party to form a new political force.
In both mass defections, the main instigator was Ichiro Ozawa.
However, this time around, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda does not seem worried that he will suffer the same fate as Kiichi Miyazawa, the prime minister of the Liberal Democratic Party government in 1993, and be ousted from office.
Instead, there is a palpable sense of relief--even confidence--among those in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who are close to Noda.
The removal of the Ozawa group from the DPJ means Noda can push ahead with his agreement with two opposition parties, the LDP and New Komeito, to seek passage of legislation in the Upper House to double the consumption tax rate to 10 percent by 2015.
Without the agreement, the Noda administration had little hope of winning approval of the bills in the Upper House, which is controlled by the opposition parties.
Indeed, Noda had been eager to gain the support of the LDP and New Komeito, even before he became prime minister in September 2011. And after Noda staked his political life on passing the consumption tax hike legislation, his negotiations with the opposition parties intensified while Ozawa found himself on the sidelines.
Ozawa and his group refused to back off from their criticism that raising the tax would violate the DPJ's campaign manifesto that pushed the party into power after the 2009 Lower House election.
But only 38 Lower House members left the DPJ, meaning that Ozawa does not have enough members to independently submit a no-confidence motion in the Lower House against the Noda Cabinet.
Noda, meanwhile, has gained indications from LDP officials that they will cooperate to at least approve the consumption tax hike legislation in the Upper House and pass it into law.
Some close to Noda are also presenting an optimistic picture for the prime minister’s reign over the next few months.
"With Ozawa gone from the party, the prime minister's re-election chances in the DPJ presidential election in September have become more solid," one associate said.
Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada also suggested that Noda does not have to rush a dissolution of the Lower House for a snap election.
"There are some people who mistakenly believe a promise was made to dissolve the Lower House (in exchange for the agreement with the LDP and New Komeito),” Okada told a gathering of lawmakers on July 1. “However, we have reached this stage without anything of the sort."
Yet Noda has no guarantee that the opposition parties will continue to cooperate once the consumption tax legislation becomes law.
What is clear is that the structure of two major political parties tussling over power and policy has changed. It is now much more difficult to find major differences between the DPJ and LDP.
One LDP faction leader went so far as to say power had effectively shifted to the LDP, and the main opposition party was already considering how it could take the initiative for compiling the budget for fiscal 2013 at the end of the year.
"The Noda administration has pushed through something that is not contained in the DPJ manifesto and dissatisfaction has accumulated within the party,” an associate of Noda said. “We will have to discuss what platform we will present in the next election."
For his part, Ozawa is taking a huge gamble in leaving the DPJ.
He once headed an internal party group with more than 100 members, but the faction effectively split into three over the tax hike issue.
While 49 members followed Ozawa out of the DPJ, a number of Lower House members who voted against the bills decided to remain in the ruling party. A considerable number of group members actually voted in favor of the legislation.
Ozawa has indicated he is prepared to head the new party that he plans to form, but it is unclear how the party will do in the next Lower House election.
Ozawa has made moves to cooperate with the Osaka Ishin no Kai, a party created by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. However, Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui, a close associate of Hashimoto, said the DPJ manifesto that Ozawa insists on sticking to is unacceptable from the standpoint of the platform put together by the Ishin no Kai.
Disciplinary measures handed down to DPJ rebels
The DPJ on July 3 handed down disciplinary measures against lawmakers who voted against the tax hike legislation, expelling those who have already resigned and suspending the party privileges of those who remained.
The Standing Officers Council expelled the 37 Lower House members, including Ozawa, who submitted their letters of resignation on July 2.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had his party privileges suspended for six months, while the privileges of the 18 other "rebel" lawmakers who remained in the ruling party were suspended for two months.
The letters of resignation submitted by 12 Upper House members were also accepted by the DPJ.
Tomohiko Mizuno, who initially submitted his resignation letter on July 2, retracted the move on July 3.
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