Tokyo: Japan’s beleaguered Prime Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday rejected calls for a snap election, pledging to focus on the economic crisis, but was immediately defied by a senior member of his own party.
Aso, who took office just three months ago, needs to hold an election by September next year, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has been pressing the premier to dissolve the lower house as soon as possible.
“I’m well aware of talk about elections or a political realignment,” Aso told a news conference as he presented his government’s record budget.
“Now that we are in the midst of a once-in-a-century crisis, we are not in a position to talk about such things. I think it’s impossible,” he said.
Aso called on the opposition, which controls the less powerful upper house of parliament, to approve quickly his record 88.55 trillion yen ($980 billion) budget for fiscal 2009.
“What the public ask of the parliament, I believe, is whether it can protect the lives of people from this economic crisis. The will and the resolve of the parliament are being challenged,” Aso said.
But shortly after his remarks, a ranking member of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) sided with the opposition in urging the premier to call elections.
In a visible show of defiance, Yoshimi Watanabe, the former minister for administrative reforms, stood from his seat in the lower house to vote for an opposition-sponsored resolution telling Aso to call for elections.
“Only elections can break the deadlock,” Watanabe, son of a former deputy prime minister, told reporters afterwards.
He said he did not plan to leave the LDP - unless he was forced out.
LDP parliamentary affairs chief Tadamori Oshima said Watanabe’s action was “regrettable,” but stressed the ruling bloc was otherwise unified and defeated the opposition bill.
Opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa said Aso should feel obliged to call an election.
“Even today, the number of unemployed is going up and companies failing. People are raising their voices to be heard and their mistrust and anger are only getting stronger,” he said.
“Most of the people, the ones who hold the sovereign right, believe that they want to make the judgement for themselves. There will be no choice but to hold elections in due time,” he said.
The Aso government’s approval rating has plunged below 20% in recent polls, with voters giving more support to the opposition than the LDP.
The LDP has been in power for all but 10 months since 1955. But its popularity has rapidly dwindled due to scandals, gaffes and concerns over the handling of the economy, the world’s second largest.
Aso is the fourth prime minister from the LDP to lead Japan since 2006.
The LDP’s woes have led leading members of the party to openly hint they could defect, either siding with the opposition or reshaping Japan’s political landscape.