Democratic Party of Japan former President Ichiro Ozawa and 49 of his allies officially submitted their resignations Monday to the ruling party and may launch a new party later this week.
But the 50 rebels — 38 from the Lower House and 12 from the Upper House — came up short of breaking the power balance in the Diet.
In the lower chamber, the rebels can’t force the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) ruling bloc into the minority, and the exit of 12 Upper House lawmakers doesn’t strip the DPJ of its No. 1 position in the chamber, which is in overall control of the opposition camp, led by the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
But the DPJ defectors may be just the first of the Ozawa loyalists to depart, so the threat to the stability of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration remains. The departures are due to the no-vote the Ozawa clan made last week against Noda’s bill to double the 5 percent consumption tax, a hike Ozawa said ran against the no-tax-hike vow the party made when it finally took power in 2009.
The LDP and New Komeito backed the DPJ vote for the tax hike last week.
“With the three-party agreement (on the tax hike), the DPJ has betrayed the public,” Ozawa told reporters Monday evening, slamming the party leaders for the “absurdity of discussing punishments against party members who try to deliver on the promises it made to the public.”
Ozawa remained vague about his timeline for forming a new party but said its key policies would be to oppose any hike in the consumption tax and the use of nuclear power.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura voiced disappointment at Monday’s departures.
“It is very disappointing that so many lawmakers in the ruling party submitted letters of resignation, what with the mountain of issues both domestic and international that we must deal with,” Fujimura said. “Naturally, I believe the government will be affected to no small extent . . . and will continue to watch over the situation closely.”
The Ozawa exodus, however, got off to a shaky start. The resignations began with 52 lawmakers, only to see Lower House members Megumu Tsuji and Takeshi Shina tell reporters later that they intended to stay.
“I believe I can still fight (the tax hike) from within the party, and that is where I am different from Mr. Ozawa. I realize there is a difference in the level of experience, but I think I am being realistic,” Tsuji said.
With the exit of 50 lawmakers, Noda, whose administration is already dropping in the polls, will have to devote what power remains to rebuilding the DPJ while relying increasingly on the LDP and New Komeito, the two largest opposition parties, to pass legislation.
The outlook for Ozawa also is dim, critics said, because he will have to struggle to strengthen unity among his followers and increase their numbers.
Funding, or a lack thereof, will also be a headache for the don.
By law, political parties’ subsidies are based on size as of Jan. 1, or immediately after a Lower House poll. And with many freshmen lawmakers with few re-election prospects in his group, Ozawa is going to need a lot of cash to back their campaigns.
“Ozawa had no choice but to leave the party — he would have been labeled the little boy who cried wolf if he stayed in the DPJ,” said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University, calling the departure “a risky bet.”
Ozawa has a history of bolting and forming new parties, and has been nicknamed “the destroyer” for all of the parties he has split up, including Shinshinto. He was also the one who engineered a seven-party coalition in 1993 that, although briefly, replaced the LDP at the helm of government for the first time in its history.
Ozawa is expected to reach out to other opposition parties to gain strength.
In December, nine Ozawa loyalists left the DPJ and formed the Kizuna Party to oppose Noda’s tax hike bill. That party has said it will cooperate with Ozawa. But the two groups together do not have the numbers to submit a vote of no-confidence against the prime minister.
The Social Democratic Party has also expressed interest in joining hands with Ozawa.