Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, once labeled a wishy-washy leader, has stunned many in the political world with his recent bold decisions on foreign and national security policies, specifically those espoused by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said the Noda administration’s increasing coziness with the LDP has led to the formation of a Noda faction within the largest opposition party.
Even senior LDP officials say they have been caught off-guard by Noda’s shift toward their party.
Over the past week, Noda said the central government would make efforts to acquire three of the disputed Senkaku Islands as well as begin discussions on reviewing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to give Japan the right to exercise collective self-defense.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said on July 10 that Noda’s moves appear to be an attempt to trigger a political realignment affecting both the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the LDP.
In fact, Noda's decisions on the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan, and the right of collective self-defense were triggered by action taken by the LDP.
In late May, the LDP compiled a draft of its campaign platform for the next Lower House election that contained a plank calling for national ownership of the Senkaku Islands.
At a July 6 LDP General Council meeting, a draft of a basic law on national security was approved that would make it possible for Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense.
Having already obtained the LDP's cooperation on legislation to double the consumption tax rate by 2015, Noda now appears to be siding with the LDP on foreign policy and national security.
"He is following any decision (made by the LDP) or move on the part of the party,” a sarcastic LDP Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara said on July 10. “I get the impression that he is making those decisions on a whim."
At a July 9 Lower House Budget Committee session, Noda also referred to a draft by the LDP on revising the Constitution.
"It will be to the advantage of the general public to reach conclusions on issues that have been put off until now,” the prime minister said. “It will be important to find those areas on which compromise can be reached in order to push forward the political process. We should hold such a stance even for the Constitution."
Noda has long been a proponent of reviewing the government’s interpretation on the right to exercise collective self-defense as well as on revising the Constitution. The current interpretation says Japan possesses the right of collective self-defense but cannot exercise that right.
The recent moves may also reflect growing confidence on the part of Noda. Not only have chances greatly increased that the consumption tax legislation will pass the Upper House and become law, but Noda can also say that the DPJ has become a party that can make decisions with the departure of Ichiro Ozawa and his group of rebels.
"By trying to increase the popularity of his administration through policies on which he has long held a position, he can also attract the LDP. Those are conditions that are favorable to the administration," an associate of Noda said.
At the same time, his strong stand on foreign policy and national security could further divide the DPJ, which consists of a hodgepodge of politicians, including conservatives as well as defenders of the pacifist Constitution.
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