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Unpopular Japan PM’s job at risk after Tokyo vote

in.reuters.com

Unpopular Japan PM’s job at risk after Tokyo vote

TOKYO  – Unpopular Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso’s job is at risk after his ruling bloc suffered a big defeat in a Tokyo poll on Sunday, with critics in his party now expected to intensify moves to ditch him before a national vote.

NHK public TV said Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior partner had lost their majority in the Tokyo assembly while the opposition Democratic Party won the most seats in the vote, which is considered a barometer for the national election.

Aso has been thought to be eyeing an early August national vote, but many in the LDP were already opposed to a move they fear would be political suicide.

NHK public TV said Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura and LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda agreed in talks on Sunday the outcome of the Tokyo vote would not affect national politics and Aso would not be blamed for a defeat.

However, Kyodo quoted another unidentified ruling party executive as saying: “This is a great blow against the Aso government.”

The long-ruling LDP has been wracked by internal dissension of late, with Aso critics openly urging an early party leadership vote to replace him while his allies defend his right to call a general election at a time of his own choosing.

“There will be confusion inside the LDP. People will try to oust Aso and he will try to stay on,” said Keio University political science professor Yasunori Sone.

“It is not clear if they can oust him and if they did, would support for the LDP increase? Not much,” Sone said. “Chances the LDP could win under a new leader are very small. That has become clearer as a result of this Tokyo election.”

NEARLY UNBROKEN RULE

A Democratic Party victory in the lower house election would end half a century of nearly unbroken rule by the business-friendly LDP and raise the chances of resolving a deadlock in a divided parliament as Japan tries to recover from its worst recession since World War Two.

Aso’s term as LDP leader expires in September and his critics in the party are keen to bring forward the leadership vote to replace him ahead of the general election.

Possible candidates to replace Aso include Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare Yoichi Masuzoe, 60, a former academic and TV commentator seen as competent and hardworking.

But Aso is Japan’s third premier to take office since Junichiro Koizumi led the party to a huge win in a 2005 election, so voters might not be impressed with another change at the top.

The Democrats, hoping to intensify pressure on the ruling bloc, are considering submitting a no-confidence motion against Aso in the lower house.

But Japan’s biggest opposition party has its own headache.

Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama has apologised for the fact that some people listed as his political donors were dead. But the LDP — although far from immune to scandals itself — is pressing for him to appear in parliament over the affair.

Hatoyama took over as party leader in May after his predecessor stepped down to keep a separate fundraising scandal from hurting the party’s chances at the polls.

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Iraq national vote unlikely in January

NEWS-US-IRAQ-ELECTION

An Iraqi soldier stand guard at a check point in Baghdad, November 26, 2008.

Iraq national vote unlikely in January

BAGHDAD, Nov. 24, 2009 (Reuters) — Iraq will be unable to hold a national election in January as planned, a poll official said on Tuesday, heaping more uncertainty on a vote meant to cement democracy and pave the way for a partial U.S. troop withdrawal.

The general election was supposed to be held between January 18-23, but Iraq’s Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim, last week vetoed a law needed to hold the polls on grounds that Iraqis abroad were under-represented.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled the sectarian violence triggered by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and many are Sunni.

Parliament returned the law to the presidential council, including Hashemi, Monday, but deliberately failed to address his concerns and in all likelihood it will be vetoed again.

“In all cases the possibility of holding the vote in January is over,” said Faraj al-Haidari, head of the electoral commission.

In theory the election law must be passed 60 days before the vote, making Tuesday the last day lawmakers can reach agreement to meet the January 23 proposed election date.

But after a heated parliamentary session Monday, the fractious parliament seemed more divided than ever.

Lawmakers belonging to Iraq’s majority Shi’ite community and minority Kurdish community voted for amendments to the election law that would weaken Sunni voter representation, a move some said was meant as a poke in the eye for Hashemi.

Sunni lawmakers staged a walk out of the session and the next sitting is not scheduled until December 8, although the speaker could call for an extraordinary session to end the impasse.

A legal adviser to the presidential council said an election date of January 21 or 23 was still possible, if that was what the council decided, but that a delay was not a problem.

“Election dates aren’t sacred. We always set dates and we always violate them,” he said.

MARCH VOTE?

Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, a senior member of the Shi’ite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, said a January election was off the cards now because of Shi’ite religious festivals at the end of the month.

“We believe the best opportunity to conduct a vote is around March 1,” he said.

The row threatens to re-open ethno-sectarian wounds among Iraq’s Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds which have only just begun to heal after years of bloodshed. Investors, eyeing Iraq’s vast oil wealth and lucrative oil field development contracts but nervous about security, will also be watching the elections closely.

One prominent Sunni lawmaker called for demonstrations against the amended election law, which he called a “big crime.”

The U.S. military plans to end combat operations by the end of next August before a full withdrawal by 2012, but is waiting to see whether Iraq’s fragile stability holds after the polls, the country’s first general election since 2005.

The U.S. build-up of troops and hardware in Afghanistan partially hinges on pulling assets out of Iraq first.

Washington has lobbied for the polls to be held on time. A delay beyond January would violate Iraq’s constitution, setting a precedent that could encourage autocratically-minded Iraqi leaders to flout the law in the future, analysts say.

“Some slippage is OK, but we don’t want a lot of slippage, so I hope they look carefully at this and I hope they can get moving,” U.S. ambassador Chris Hill told reporters.

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William Hague to urge reform on visit to Burma

William Hague is visiting Burma, the first British foreign secretary to do so for more than 50 years.

He is expected to use meetings with the country’s leaders to press for the release of more political prisoners.
His visit is the latest in a series by top diplomats from around the world, amid steps towards reform by the new government in Burma.
Burma held its first elections in 20 years in 2010, replacing military rule with a nominally civilian government.
Since then the new administration has freed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and begun a process of dialogue.
Last month she formally registered her National League for Democracy as a political party, after boycotting the 2010 polls because of electoral laws that prevented her taking part.

In December US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma, in what was seen as an endorsement of the reform process – although Western observers say much more is needed.
‘Political freedom’

Speaking ahead of his arrival in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, William Hague welcomed the “encouraging” steps taken by the government.

“I am visiting the country to encourage the Burmese government to continue on its path of reform, and to gauge what more Britain can do to support this process,” he said.

Mr Hague is the first British foreign secretary to visit Burma since 1955.

In Nay Pyi Taw he will hold talks with President Thein Sein, a former top general who stepped down to contest the polls as a civilian.

He will then travel to Rangoon, Burma’s commercial capital, to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, representatives of some of Burma’s ethnic minority groups and dissidents.

Ms Suu Kyi’s party plans to contest by-elections in April that could see her elected to parliament. Her party secured a landslide victory in polls in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

The new government has released some political prisoners in recent months but between 600 and 1,000 journalists, dissidents and monks who led anti-government protests in 2007 are thought to remain behind bars.

Mr Hague said he wanted to see more progress on reform.

“Further steps are needed that will have a lasting impact on human rights and political freedom in Burma,” he said.

“In particular, we hope to see the release of all remaining political prisoners, free and fair by-elections, humanitarian access to people in conflict areas, and credible steps towards national reconciliation.”

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