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Ozawa and followers bow out of DPJ

Date Posted: 2012-07-08

The former president of the Democratic Party of Japan has made good on his threat to abandon the party, resigning and taking 49 of his followers along with him.

Ichiro Ozawa and fellow lawmakers –12 from the Upper House and 38 from the Lower House—pulled out of the DPJ, but didn’t quite assemble the muscle he’d hope. The defections aren’t enough to bump the DPJ’s majority, which already is in an alliance with Kokumin Shinto, the People’s New Party. Ozawa would have needed another handful of allies in order to snatch the lead position from the DPJ in the Upper House.

Still, Ozawa thinks more defections will follow, putting pressure on Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration. Ozawa and his fellow lawmakers were not pleased with the passage of a 5% consumption tax hike last week, charging Noda violated a DPJ campaign promise not to hike taxes when it was elected in 2009.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito backed the DPJ in voting for the consumption tax increase, leading Ozawa to declare “the DPJ has betrayed the public”, and blasting leaders for “absurdity of discussing punishments against party members who try to deliver on promises made to the public.” Ozawa says he’ll discuss future plans sometime soon, but hinted forming a new party was a possibility.

A new party, says Ozawa, would oppose any hikes in the consumption tax, and would also address the use of nuclear power.

Ozawa’s defection train began with 52 lawmakers on board, but before it left the Tokyo station a couple jumped off. Lower House members Megumu Tsuji and Takeshi Shina told reporters they were staying with the DPJ. “I believe I can still fight from within the party,” says Tsuji, “and that’s where I am different from Mr. Ozawa. I realize there is a difference in level of experience, but I think I am being realistic.”

The Ozawa move does put Prime Minister Noda’s administration in trouble. It’s already losing ground in polls, and must now muster its power to rebuild the DPJ while turning more to the rivals LDP and New Komeito, for support in getting legislation passed.

Ozawa has a track record for jumping parties and forming new ones. He holds the nickname “the destroyer” for the parties he’s busted up, including Shinshinto. Ozawa was also in the core of the party that set up a seven-party coalition in 1993 that replaced the LDP briefly. He’s now expected to lobby other opposition groups to support him. Nine Ozawa loyalists left the DPJ last December to form the Kizuna Party. The new party says it will team with Ozawa, but didn’t indicate further plans to join him.

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