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2009年7月22日 (水)

衆院解散:迷走続けた「選挙の顔」 首相、遅すぎた決断

(Mainichi Japan) July 21, 2009
Aso's decision to dissolve Lower House comes too late
衆院解散:迷走続けた「選挙の顔」 首相、遅すぎた決断

Struggling Prime Minister Taro Aso's decision to dissolve the powerful House of Representatives has come too late, forcing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to fight in a general election under the worst possible conditions.
Aso stuck to his decision to dissolve the chamber at his own discretion to suppress a campaign from within the LDP to force him to step down.
"He was elected president of the LDP as the 'face' of its election campaign. Therefore, he feared that the party would be driven into a corner if he resigned at this stage," explains a close aide to the prime minister.
However, Aso appears far from suitable to serve as the face of the LDP, after being forced to bow before a meeting of the LDP members of both houses of the Diet to apologize for its losses in a series of local elections, and ask for party unity in the campaign.

Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, the No. 2 man in the Cabinet, shocked Aso on July 15 when he demanded that a joint plenary session of the LDP members of both houses be convened. Such an official meeting, where LDP Diet members have the right to vote, could lead to a campaign to force Aso to step down.

"Japan hasn't achieved an economic recovery yet. I respected Yosano the most. I've cooperated closely with him in implementing economic policies, but ..." Aso was quoted as telling Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura.

It apparently flashed through Aso's mind that his grandfather, former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, was forced to resign with his entire Cabinet in December 1954 after then Deputy Prime Minister Taketora Ogata and many other Cabinet members expressed stiff opposition to his intention to dissolve the Lower House.

Aso refused to comply with Yosano's demand apparently because he wanted to avoid following his grandfather's footsteps.

"Our policies aren't wrong. We should be proud of them," Aso said, showing his determination to call a general election by appealing his achievements of economic stimulus measures, even though he split with Yosano.

Prime Minister Aso considered dissolving the Lower House at least three times since he took office in September last year.

First, he planned to dissolve the chamber in early October 2008 for a Nov. 2 general election. He attempted to take advantage of his popularity following the LDP presidential election to win a general election and ensure that he will stay in power for a long time.

However, an opinion poll that the Mainichi Shimbun conducted following the inauguration of his administration showed that the approval rating for his Cabinet stood at 45 percent, lower than he had expected. Moreover, the LDP's analysis showed it would face an uphill battle if he dissolved the Lower House at that time.

Next, he studied the possibility of winning a general election if he dissolved the chamber in late October 2008 for a Nov. 30 poll, and LDP Secretary-General Hiroyuki Hosoda and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Tadamori Oshima advised him to go ahead with his planned dissolution. However, then Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa and LDP Election Strategy Council Vice Chairman Yoshihide Suga, close aides to Aso, insisted that an election should be delayed because its chance of winning was getting slimmer. In the end, Aso sided with Nakagawa and Suga.

After the bankruptcy of U.S. financial giant Lehman Brothers in September triggered a global economic crisis, the prime minister declared that he would postpone calling a general election to place priority on economic stimulus measures. However, the economy remained sluggish and the approval rating for his Cabinet was hovering low.

He then considered reshuffling the LDP leadership and his Cabinet sometime between late June and early July, then dissolving the Lower House for an election on Aug. 2, 8 or 9. However, the plan was met with stiff opposition from not only within the LDP but also ruling coalition partner Komeito.
He dissolved the chamber on Tuesday after the LDP suffered a crushing defeat in the July 12 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. He had no choice but to go ahead with the dissolution this time after deeming that a further delay could trigger a campaign within the party to force him to step down.

Aso managed to suppress anti-Aso members within the LDP, but a party split is still a real fear.

毎日新聞 2009年7月21日 13時15分(最終更新 7月21日 14時50分)


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