Japan's ruling party, already deeply divided, has been thrown into further disarray by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision to call a Lower House election next month.
It also sent minor parties scrambling to forge a credible alliance to go up against the established political forces of Noda's Democratic Party of Japan and the resurgent Liberal Democratic Party.
Noda's decision caught his party off-guard. The DPJ is in deep trouble as it prepares to seek the mandate of voters for another four-year term.
Six lawmakers, two of them former Cabinet ministers, have decided to leave the party, which will cost the DPJ its majority of Lower House seats.
The DPJ appears to be heading for a crushing defeat, given the Cabinet's rock-bottom support rates and broken campaign promises dating back three years ago when it first seized power.
Noda on Nov. 14 announced he will dissolve the chamber after two days following growing pressure on two fronts.
The opposition LDP and New Komeito were branding the prime minister a "liar" for his failure to deliver on his promise in August to dissolve the chamber in the near future.
Many DPJ lawmakers, on the other hand, were dead set against setting the election wheels in motion, fearing a crucial setback.
On Nov. 13, members of the Standing Officers Council, the party's second-highest decision-making body, agreed to oppose a year-end dissolution "as the party's consensus."
Some lawmakers openly called for replacing Noda. An aide said there were fears that disgruntled party members would mount "a coup" when Noda travels to Cambodia for ASEAN-related summits from Nov. 18.
Noda eventually concluded he had no choice but to dissolve the Lower House on Nov. 16 to stifle last-ditch efforts to remove him and counter the threat of a no-confidence motion being submitted against his Cabinet, sources said.
Noda said he will dissolve the Lower House on Nov. 16 during a one-on-one Diet debate with LDP President Shinzo Abe.
All but a handful of close allies--among them Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura--were informed of the strategy in advance.
DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi, a staunch opponent of early dissolution, was kept out of the loop.
Just two hours prior to his debate with Abe, Noda met Koshiishi at the prime minister's office and told him he would mention the timing of the dissolution during the face-off.
"It is a raw deal for someone who has supported the prime minister up until now," said a disaffected senior party official close to Koshiishi.
The ranks of the DPJ were depleted after Noda's unpopular decision to raise the consumption tax rate. The party could now face an exodus.
Masahiko Yamada, a former farm minister, told reporters on Nov. 15 he will leave the party.
Lower House members Makoto Yamazaki and Yoshitada Tomioka submitted their resignations the same day.
Yamazaki planned to set up a new party with four Upper House colleagues later that day. Tomioka plans to join Your Party, a minor entity.
Sakihito Ozawa, a former environment minister, and Lower House members Osamu Nakagawa and Takashi Nagao also decided to leave the DPJ.
Ozawa plans to join the Japan Restoration Party, led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.
"I cannot achieve policy goals if I stay with the DPJ," Ozawa told Hashimoto in Osaka on Nov. 14.
Michihiko Kano, another former farm minister, and Akihiro Ohata, a former industry minister, asked Koshiishi on Nov. 14 to call a meeting of party members of both houses of the Diet, the DPJ's highest decision-making body.
Some lawmakers planned to submit a motion to the meeting to dismiss Noda as party president on grounds that he acted against the Nov. 13 decision by the Standing Officers Council.
But that idea will likely be scrapped because the party executives decided to hold the meeting only after Noda dissolves the Lower House on Nov. 16.
Noda's abrupt announcement set minor parties scrambling to forge a third political force to rival the DPJ and the LDP.
Hashimoto said Nov. 14 that his Japan Restoration Party will announce more candidates than the initially planned 80 or so when it releases the first of a series of rosters as early as Nov. 17.
"We cannot use the excuse that we were unprepared," he said. "We will either sink or swim."
Hashimoto reiterated that he himself will not run for a seat and said the party plans to work together with Your Party.
Genzei Nippon, led by Nagoya Major Takashi Kawamura, decided to merge with the Sunrise Party, established by former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara on Nov. 13.
Ishihara and Kawamura were to announce their campaign pledges on Nov. 15.
Hashimoto said Nov. 15 that the Japan Restoration Party will not be able to join the Sunrise Party, although he wants to work with Ishihara.
"We may be able to fight the election together as separate parties," he said. "We will see whether we can form a united front."
Members of Kizuna Party, another minor party, are expected to join People's Life First, which was formed by former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa with other DPJ defectors.
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