Abe wooing 'third-force' political parties

Abe wooing 'third-force' political parties

The nation began the new year with a political scene dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party after the party's election victory put an end to the divided Diet.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who holds the key to changing the political landscape, has begun wooing "third-force" opposition parties that support a review of the government's constitutional interpretation as he looks to a review that would allow the nation to exercise the right of collective self-defence.

To counter the powerful ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito, some opposition parties have shown signs of seeking reorganisation. But key figures in the opposition camp have different levels of enthusiasm for the prospect.

On Dec. 23, Abe met with Toru Hashimoto, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), at a hotel in Tokyo.

The meeting was also attended by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba, Ishin no Kai Secretary General Ichiro Matsui and Yorihisa Matsuno, secretary general of the opposition party's group of lawmakers.

After the meeting, Abe told reporters, "We talked about various things, looking back on the past year." He did not elaborate.

According to a source close to the prime minister, the about three-hour dinner meeting was intended to rebuild the relationship between the LDP and Ishin no Kai.

During the last extraordinary Diet session, Hashimoto expressed a negative view about the law on protecting specially designated state secrets.

Although his party previously agreed to the modified state secrecy bill with the ruling parties, the party's members walked out of the plenary sessions of both Diet chambers.

Ishin no Kai has also decided to oppose a nuclear cooperation agreement that would allow the export of nuclear plant technology-a pillar of the Abe administration's growth strategy.

Abe reportedly intends to launch full discussions in spring to review the government's constitutional interpretation.

However, as Komeito has opposed the review, the prime minister apparently approached Ishin no Kai, which is in favour of the review, with the aim of having Ishin no Kai fend off pressure from the ruling parties.

Meanwhile, Your Party is approaching the Abe administration over issues such as a review of how the Constitution is interpreted.

Abe has deepened ties with Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe, and the opposition party swiftly agreed to the modifications of the secrecy bill.

Watanabe, whose leadership has been undermined since defectors from the party formed a new party called Yui no To, emphasised a close relationship with the prime minister in an effort to maintain his clout.

At a press conference on Dec. 27, Watanabe said: "The simplest and quickest way is for me to speak to the prime minister in person. I want to bring timely proposals and have strategic discussions [with him]."

Watanabe hinted that he would ask Abe for talks on a wide range of issues.

Abe's move to approach such opposition parties also appears to be aimed at putting the brakes on the opposition bloc's possible shakeup.

The prime minister met with Hashimoto five days after Yui no To was launched with a mission to consolidate opposition forces.

The Abe administration was quick to handle the new party. Suga held talks with Yui no To executives, including President Kenji Eda and Secretary General Jiro Ono, at the Prime Minister's Office on Dec. 20. Abe later met with Eda and others at his executive office.

Eda also stressed cozy ties with the prime minister, saying, "[Abe] has shown us great consideration."

Abe's moves, however, have frustrated Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner.

Regarding a review of the government's constitutional interpretation, some Komeito members have voiced concern over whether the party could resist if the LDP, Ishin no Kai and Your Party set the direction of the review themselves.

On Dec. 27, a day after Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi hastily called a party executive meeting where he said, "We need to seriously consider how we should confront the Prime Minister's Office and the LDP."

In light of this, Komeito is likely to be tested in 2014 as to how effectively it serves as the brakes on the Abe administration, the raison d'etre that Yamaguchi has stressed for the party.

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