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Japan parties ready for annual conventions

 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso listens to questions during the lower house budget committee in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. While the public suppo...
 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso bites his finger as he attends the lower house budget committee in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. While the public su...
 Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso bows after the lower house of Parliament voted on budget bills that include a proposal to hand out cash to spur spen...

Japan Politics

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso listens to questions during the lower house budget committee in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. While the public suppo...

Japan Politics

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso bites his finger as he attends the lower house budget committee in Tokyo Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. While the public su...

Japan Politics

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso bows after the lower house of Parliament voted on budget bills that include a proposal to hand out cash to spur spen...

It's rally time in Tokyo. Japan's two biggest political parties hold their annual conventions this weekend and here's what's on the plate: The world's second-largest economy is tanking, the ruling bloc is struggling to avert a meltdown and Prime Minister Taro Aso is so unpopular that voters increasingly want his main rival to take over.
The conventions of the opposition Democrats and the ruling Liberal Democrats, to be held on Sunday, are mainly for show. There will be lots of speeches, but no new leaders will be chosen and neither party plans to announce major policy changes.
Over the next several months, however, some big changes may be in the works, analysts say.
The rallies come at an extremely inopportune time for Aso, who is squirming under increasingly shrill calls for elections that public opinion surveys suggest his party, which has governed Japan for most of the past 60 years, could well lose.
"Aso is worse than a lame duck," said Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Tokyo's Sophia University. "He's more like a headless chicken."
Aso's declining popularity _ two media polls this week put approval of his administration at only 20 percent _ has led to widespread speculation that his days in office could be numbered. Thirty percent support is seen by many experts as a danger zone, below which it is difficult to sustain an administration.
Aso, who assumed office in September, has been dogged by dissatisfaction over his policies to turn around the country's moribund economy, which is in recession and expected to show no growth this year.
The opposition, led by Ichiro Ozawa of the Democratic Party of Japan, has hammered Aso on every front, using its clout in parliament to block or stall his main policy goals, including a controversial promise to give a cash handout to every Japanese household.
Aso claims the handout _ worth 2 trillion yen ($20.4 billion), or about 12,000 yen ($100) per person _ will spur spending, but Ozawa and even much of the public that would stand to profit oppose it as a lavish waste of money at a time when Japan needs to more seriously address bigger economic issues such as unemployment and benefits for the growing legions of temporary workers.
"With life becoming increasingly bleak for its citizens, Japan does not have the luxury to continue with such inane politics," The Asahi, a major newspaper, panned in an editorial Thursday.
A poll this week the Yomiuri, a major newspaper, indicated nearly 40 percent of those surveyed would prefer Ozawa as prime minister, almost twice as many as said Aso was better for the post.
In a high-profile embarrassment for Aso on Tuesday, a former Cabinet minister quit the ruling party, saying that he could not stand in solidarity with a party that "no longer hears the voice of the people."
The defection of Yoshimi Watanabe, who served as reform minister in two Cabinets and is one of the party's most recognizable figures, was seen as a measure of deep discontent among ruling party members, who feel that their own careers could be hurt if Aso cannot turn around his standing with voters.
What he will do next is an open question.
Watanabe denied rumors that he is planning to woo other members of the ruling party to follow his lead and formally create a new party. He also said he does not intend to join the opposition Democrats. But he said he does want to start a "non-partisan movement" that will be closer in step with the needs of the voters.
"Prime Minister Aso's political judgment, which is only based on his desire to hold on to power, is the very problem that is delaying measures on crucial issues," Watanabe said.
Though elections do not need to be held until September, Aso has indicated that he might be willing to call them sooner, after the national budget passes, which will likely be in April.
Either way is a gamble: Holding them sooner could mean losing control of the powerful lower house of parliament to the Democrats, but waiting could lead to even greater losses if his popularity keeps heading south.
The Democrats, meanwhile, have problems of their own.
While support for Ozawa _ himself a former ruling party baron _ is increasing and has narrowly surpassed Aso in recent polls, the party has had difficulty establishing itself as anything other than an anti-ruling party option. Experts say that if it is to genuinely take power, it must do more than play the perennial critic.
Tsuneo Watanabe, fellow for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Democrats are almost certain to win the elections and take power, possibly in alliance with other smaller opposition parties, unless they are unexpectedly hit by a major scandal.
"The question is not if they can take power, but if they can do a good job," he said. "Japanse voters used to fear a change, but they've learned that not changing can be a disaster."
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AP writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-02 00:20 GMT+08:00