Japan's DPJ forms coalition despite disagreements

Sharp differences with one of its two junior partners over US military bases in Japan held up an agreement for days. Leaders declined Wednesday to say how they were resolved.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) moved closer to putting together its historic new government, forming a ruling coalition Wednesday with two smaller parties.

How the coalition works together matters to the United States, because the DPJ and one of its partners, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), have serious disagreements over how to deal with the US military presence in Japan. While the SDP has demanded a reduction of US bases and the revision of a plan to relocate US troops in Okinawa, the DPJ has indicated that it is willing to be more flexible and diplomatic on these matters.

The agreement suggests that DPJ, despite its campaign rhetoric, is displaying a political pragmatism in matters of diplomacy, particularly as Yukio Hatoyama, who as the party’s leader will be sworn in as prime minister next week, will soon visit the US.

Party insiders would not disclose how they overcame their differences or what the substance of their agreement is. They said only: "We've finally wrapped up talks. It's good we had a clean outcome. The three party leaders will meet in the afternoon and sign to confirm," said the DPJ secretary general, Katsuya Okada,” according to the BBC.

The BBC explains why the DPJ, “despite winning a landslide victory in last month's election, … needs support in parliament's upper house.”

The DPJ won 308 seats of the 480-member lower house but needs the support of the smaller parties in the weaker upper house to ensure bills are not delayed.

A coalition forming has been stalled for days due to the rift over the role of US military forces in Japan, reports Japan’s Daily Mainichi paper:

SDP Secretary-General Yasumasa Shigeno demanded that a new government seek revisions to the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement and withdraw Maritime Self-Defense Force troops from the Indian Ocean where they are refueling U.S. and other military vessels engaged in the war against terror.
"The new prime minister (DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama) is scheduled to visit the United States soon. We must take it into consideration (in working out diplomatic and security policies)," said DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada as he rejected the demand.

Agence France-Presse explains that the US military is a significant political issue:

More than half of the 47,000 US troops based in Japan are stationed on Okinawa, where their presence has often caused tensions with local residents, especially when American service members have committed crimes.

An editorial in the Japan Times Tuesday spelled out why frictions could continue between the two coalition partners in the long term:

The SDP has called for creation of a consultative body among the ruling parties. But this will run counter to the DPJ's goal of unifying the policy decision-making process under the Cabinet. Instead of a consultative body, the two minor parties should agree to join the National Strategy Bureau and make adjustments within the Cabinet.
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