Japan's ruling DPJ becoming further unhinged over Ozawa testimony

22:08, December 13, 2010      

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Japan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) opted Monday not to vote on a decision to summon the party's power broker Ichiro Ozawa to testify in parliament over his involvement in a political funds scandal which saw three of Ozawa's former aides charged with falsifying records for the purchase of a plot of land in Tokyo's Setagaya ward for about 400 million yen (4.7 million U.S. dollars).

Ozawa, who lost to Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the party leadership election in September, still has the backing of a powerful coterie of 35 DPJ lawmakers and refuses to appear before the House of Representatives' political ethics committee panel, arguing that he has done nothing wrong and the matter is in the hands of the authorities and hence is not a suitable topic for Diet discussion.

As internal conflicts intensify in Japan's ruling party, the meeting convened Monday to decide whether to vote on whether or not Ozawa should account for himself in front of parliamentary failed to reach a conclusion.

DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada told a press conference Monday that the executives involved in the decision making process decided Okada himself should once again request Ozawa's voluntary testimony.

Should Ozawa not comply of his own volition more stringent action will be taken by the DPJ, the executive committee also decided.

"Based on the two agreements, I have been entrusted (to request Ozawa's cooperation)," Okada said.

The political heavyweight, who is now heading up the DPJ's largest intraparty group has criticized calls for his testimony, with his backers saying a move to lay the groundwork for Ozawa's testimony is "a reckless act," only causing more trouble within the party.

The latest DPJ discord comes at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who also leads the DPJ, and his Cabinet have seen their support rate plummet to all time lows as the Ozawa funding scandal has yet to be resolved, and the party faces a potential stalemate over the passing of a key budgetary bill as the economy stalls.

Okada will aim to gather the ethics panel ahead of the 150-day ordinary Diet session in mid-January, in which the government needs to pass the fiscal 2011 budget and other key bills by currying enough support from coalition and opposition parties who have already threatened to bloc the next budget bill.

The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the New Komeito Party support the idea of having a vote to determine whether Ozawa should appear before parliament to testify, but even if the vote decrees Ozawa's appearance, it's non-binding and Ozawa can still choose not to appear.

On Sunday Ozawa met with two fellow senior DPJ lawmakers -- former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Azuma Koshiishi, leader of the party's House of Councillors caucus. The three decided that decisions such as dragooning Ozawa into testifying, which could divide the party, should be avoided.

Ozawa and Hatoyama have been vocally critical of the way Kan, who succeeded Hatoyama in June, is currently running the government and further adding to political instability in Kan's government, lawmakers close to Ozawa quoted the political powerhouse as saying the House of Representatives "could be dissolved" for a snap election as the current government is facing insurmountable problems.

"The current government is having a hard time," Ozawa was quoted as saying recently.

Ozawa's lower house coterie have embarked on a mission of upholding the DPJ's original election pledges, made at the general election last year, some of which have since gone awry, and giving advice to the government at a time when the rift between party executives is widening perilously.

Some DPJ executives have said they will not rule out the possibility of penalizing Ozawa if he continues to ignore requests to explain the scandal to parliament and his ejection from the party has not been ruled out.

Kan has been facing vociferous calls from opposition parties and from members within his own party for the DPJ's former No. 2 to fully explain himself to the public and the Diet, and said himself that it would be "desirable" for him to do so and that he would determine exactly how and when this process happens, pending further dialogue with his party as well as the opposition bloc.

Ozawa is largely credited with crafting the DPJ's election campaign which propelled the party to an historic victory last August, that brought an end to nearly half a century of Liberal Democratic rule in Japan. However, In June, along with former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's resignation, Ozawa, his ally, also stepped down from his position as DPJ Secretary General at the same time.

Ozawa, former Secretary General and leader of the DPJ filed a law suit against the government over a judicial panel of ordinary citizens' decision to indict him on charges of violating political funding control laws by falsifying records.

The decision to indict the enigmatic politician, was made on Sept. 14 and was the first time an independent citizens' panel invoked the law, revised in May, to allow them to effect mandatory indictment of a politician.

Prosecutors previously questioned Ozawa about his involvement in the fraud case, but decided not to indict him, however citizen groups objected and asked the citizen's panel to reinvestigate Ozawa's suspected involvement in the alleged false reporting in 2004 and 2005 by his political fund management body.

The case goes back to 2004 and involves his political fund management body called Rikuzankai. Prosecutors have charged three of Ozawa's former aides with violating political funding control laws by falsifying records for the purchase of a plot of land in Tokyo's Setagaya ward for about 400 million yen (4.7 million U.S. dollars) -- a transaction prosecutors allege they intentionally failed to report to cover up shady income and land transaction as donations.

Dubbed the "Shadow Shogun" for his wheeler-dealer style of back room dealings, Ozawa, in 2004, was also embroiled in a pension scandal although he was cleared of any legal wrongdoing. In 2009, Ozawa stepped down as DPJ chief over another scandal.

Source: Xinhua
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