Roundup: High profile Japanese lawmaker resigns over "ideological differences"

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A high profile Japanese politician confirmed Wednesday he will retire from the opposition Japan Restoration Party (JRP) and give up his seat in the lower house once his resignation has been accepted by party leaders.

The well-known comedian-turned politician, Hideo Higashikokubaru, 56, told a press briefing Wednesday that the fundamental ideology of the JRP has changed and that it no longer matches his own.

In addition, he said that the party is moving in a detrimental direction under its leaders and directors, and that this was evidenced by the JRP supporting the passage of the controversial secrecy bill through parliament to be enacted into law last Friday.

"Political ideology and policies of the Japan Restoration Party as well as their directions have changed and they are now far different from mine," Higashikokubaru said, adding that he felt there was not enough debate between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition and opposition parties on the matter.

Opposition parties believed that Abe used the ruling coalition' s dominance in parliament to steamroll the bill through both chambers of parliament to be enacted into law in the eleventh hour, in a manner seen by political pundits and the public as "heavy handed" and "autocratic."

The JRP's co-head Toru Hashimoto, who is also the mayor of Osaka, told a local news conference that he won't stand in the way of Higashikokubaru leaving his party and giving up his seat in parliament, stating "Higashikokubaru was a good man with the ability to take action."

Higashikokubaru's departure will be a blow to the JRP and further resignations or defections could start to chip away at the party's power base at a time when intraparty factions are looking for support as they set about a realignment of forces in the opposition bloc, to better counter moves by the Abe-led ruling coalition, deemed autarchic.

Higashikokubaru's resignation follows a mass exodus from the small opposition Your Party, spearheaded by former party lawmaker Kenji Eda in protest against the party leader's cozy relationship with Abe and the LDP camp.

Eda, himself a former secretary-general of Your Party, along with former main opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) secretary general Goshi Hosono and Yorihisa Matsuno, a senior member of the Japan Restoration Party, are now heading a new study group with the aim of establishing a new opposition party to stand against the LDP.

The new study group has named itself a "gathering for breaking established interest" and its first meeting Tuesday saw some 50 lawmakers attend, with the group hoping to see its numbers swell to around 100, Eda said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

The group is eyeing forming a new opposition party and traversing ways the opposition camp can better deal with the LDP- led coalition bloc and Abe, at a time when concerns are rife the prime minister is operating in a manner described by political pundits as "overly autonomous," and "skirting democratic ideals."

Eda, along with 13 other party members, tendered their resignations on Monday in a calculated move to diminish Your Party 's efforts, under leader Yoshimi Watanabe, who has steered the party's stance closer to that of Abe and his LDP.

The departure from the party will likely weaken the power base of Your Party in parliament and could lead to more defections from the party, as the party remains split over Watanabe's backing of Abe's controversial security bill, which is opposed by most opposition parties and the public in general, political commentators said.

Eda, a former trade ministry official who was elected to parliament in 2002, maintains he wants to realign the opposition camp to better challenge the ruling coalition -- especially on matters regarding the controversial secrecy bill.

Following the submission of his resignation letter to the party on Monday, Eda said he hopes that new political allies would unite together to stand against an ever-powerful ruling coalition bloc that is abusing its powers in an increasingly autocratic and unilateral manner.

However, following Higashikokubaru's departure Wednesday, Eda may take a wait-and-see approach as dissatisfaction in the opposition camp seems to be growing as Abe rolls out more policies that the opposition bloc feel have not been debated thoroughly in parliament and have caused public unease.

On Wednesday Abe and the ruling LDP unveiled plans for five- and ten-year national defense and diplomacy strategies, under the jurisdiction of the rapidly-formed U.S.-style National Security Council, that seeks to boost military spending on next-generation hardware and personnel, under the legal jurisdiction of the controversial secrecy law. Endi

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