Japan PM Aso under pressure to quit ahead of poll
TOKYO (Reuters) - Moves in Japan's long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to oust unpopular Prime Minister Taro Aso ahead of this year's election are likely to heat up.
The LDP is in danger of losing the general election to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, ending more than half a century of almost unbroken rule.
Below are some scenarios of how Japan's political saga could play out. A general election must be held no later than October.
With Aso's popular support below 10 percent in one opinion poll and close to that in others, LDP critics could try to force him out quickly.
Nearly 40 percent of voters in one poll want him to quit now; about as many want him to go after budget bills are passed.
Worried about a deepening recession, Aso wants to enact bills to implement an extra budget worth 4.8 trillion yen ($49 billion) for this fiscal year, including 2 trillion yen in payouts to individuals.
Aso would likely resign if 16 or more rebel LDP lawmakers back the opposition and vote down the payout bill, expected to be voted on next week, but analysts see that as unlikely.
Aso also wants to push through a record 88.5 trillion yen budget for 2009/10, now expected to be approved by the lower house on Friday. Aso's resignation could also be triggered if LDP rebels push to bring forward a party leadership vote set for September. The opposition might respond by submitting a no-confidence motion that some in the LDP would back, splitting the party.
ASO PERSUADED OR DOES DEAL
Aso could be persuaded by party barons to step down after parliament approves the 2009/10 budget and related bills in late March or April and after the announcement of more stimulus.
A new leader, Japan's fourth since the last election, would call a snap poll in hopes of benefiting from a bounce in support.
Or, the new prime minister could wait a few months to firm up a policy platform and call an election later.
Alternatively, Aso could do a deal under which the opposition helps pass budget and stimulus bills in return for an early vote.
A caretaker government might be installed, possibly with new Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano at the helm.
ASO HANGS ON
Aso could hang on closer to Sept 10, the end of the lower house term, while holding off critics by threatening to call a snap election that the ruling bloc is all but certain to lose.
He might seek a bounce in public support by promising more stimulus and making a splash in diplomacy, such as at a Group of Eight summit in July, while hoping the Democrats fumble.
Since possible successors in the LDP don't want to lead the party to almost certain defeat, Aso would stay on for an election at the end of the term, in September or October.
Or, the party gets cold feet and Aso is replaced in August, shortly before the election deadline.
ELECTION OUTCOME SCENARIOS
Analysts and politicians say the LDP-led coalition is sure to lose its two-thirds lower house majority that allows it to override the opposition-controlled upper house to pass laws.
The Democrats, a mix of former LDP members, ex-socialists and younger conservatives, have a good shot at becoming the biggest party in the lower house.
It might even win a majority on its own, without relying on smaller allies. That would make it easier to implement policies.
Even if the Democrats win a majority, however, the party has never held power since it was formed in 1998 and critics question its ability to govern given divisions on economics and security.
Others say winning power would boost incentives to suppress dissent and policy similarities with the LDP mean a Democrat-led government would hold together.
If the LDP's bloc wins a small majority, the policy deadlock would worsen because it could no longer overrule the upper house.
A very narrow gap between the two camps would prompt both to try to lure defectors to their side, possibly sparking a major realignment of political allegiances.
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