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Japan's largest opposition party splits ahead of election

A senior member of the moribund main opposition Democratic Party
announced the establishment of a new pro-Constitution party on
Monday, providing a container for members unlikely to be accepted by
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike into her party which aims to amend it.

The move by Yukio Edano means the Democratic Party has split
into those joining Koike's party and others opting for his party,
less than a month before the Oct. 22 lower house election.

It could prove to be a setback in an attempt to form a united
front against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government by raising the
possibility of a three-way battle between the ruling coalition,
Koike's party and a force led by Edano.

Edano, whose party is called the Constitutional Democratic Party
of Japan, stressed the necessity of launching a new party for
Democratic Party lawmakers who would not be able to join Koike's Kibo
no To (party of hope) due to differing political beliefs.

"Judging from what Ms. Koike has talked about so far, I have no
choice but to judge that (Kibo no To's) philosophy and policies are
different from what we have sought," Edano told a press conference,
adding his new party will aim to "protect constitutional democracy."

Edano was chief Cabinet secretary at the time of the March 2011
earthquake-tsunami disaster and ensuing nuclear accident at the
Fukushima Daiichi power plant. He held press conferences daily on the
situation at the nuclear power plant as Japan's top government
spokesman.

The new party "wants to play a big role in stopping the Abe
government in the general election," Edano said.

The deputy head of the Democratic Party, who was defeated by
Seiji Maehara in a leadership race in September, said he is currently
the only member of the new party, but expressed his willingness to
invite like-minded candidates.

Naoto Kan, who served as prime minister at the time of the
triple disaster, said in a stump speech the same day he will join
Edano's new party.

Democratic Party Vice President Shoichi Kondo, Akira Nagatsuma,
who chairs the party's election campaign committee, and Hirotaka
Akamatsu, a former vice speaker of the lower house, are also expected
to join Edano's party, according to sources close to the matter.

The development follows a decision by Democratic Party President
Maehara last week to effectively disband the party and let its
members run in the general election with the popular Tokyo governor's
party in a bid to unite voters against the administration of Prime
Minister Abe.

But Koike, a former lawmaker of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party,
has said her "reform-minded conservative" party would not accept all
of them and that new entrants will be required to share views on
national security and amendment of the Constitution, indicating
"liberal-wing" Democratic Party members will likely be excluded.

In Japanese politics, "liberal" typically refers to supporters
of the postwar pacifist Constitution.

Regarding relations with the Democratic Party's largest support
body, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation also known as Rengo,
Edano said he "understood" his party could secure its backing after
he had talks with its head Rikio Kozu earlier in the day.

Not all Democratic Party members will join Koike's party or
Edano's party. Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic
Party told reporters he will run as an independent, saying he is "a
moderate conservative," while Katsuya Okada, another party
heavyweight who served as deputy prime minister, and Jun Azumi, a
former deputy president of the party, will follow suit.

Noda made the comments after Goshi Hosono, one of the founding
members of Kibo no To who had left the Democratic Party, said he
wanted "those with experience of leading one of the three branches of
government" to refrain from joining the party.

Hosono's remark apparently reflect Kibo no To's aim to erase any
negative image associated with the administration of the Democratic
Party's predecessor, the Democratic Party of Japan, between 2009 and
2012.

A total of 465 seats will be up for grabs in the upcoming House
of Representatives election as the number will be cut from 475. The
ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito party held more than 300
seats in the lower house before the chamber was dissolved last week.

Koike said Monday her party will aim to put up candidates in at
least 233 seats, just over half the total. She said the party will
announce its first tranche of candidates as soon as Tuesday.
(Oct. 2)