September 9, 2009 / 1:36 AM / 10 years ago

Japan's ruling Democrats clinch coalition deal

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s new ruling Democratic Party clinched a deal on Wednesday to form a coalition with two tiny parties whose help it needs to pass laws smoothly, papering over gaps on security matters that could upset key ally Washington.

Japanese Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama makes an opening speech at Asahi World Environment Forum 2009 in Tokyo September 7, 2009. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Despite a landslide victory in the August 30 poll for parliament’s lower house, Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) needs backing from the pacifist Social Democrats and the conservative People’s New Party in the upper house to ensure legislation can be enacted freely, since the upper chamber can delay bills.

“It is wonderful to have reached a coalition agreement that will help lead people’s lives in the right direction,” Hatoyama said in a joint news conference with his counterparts from the two parties.

“We can now stand at the starting line of a new government. We will do our best to carry out the people’s mandate.”

The parties compromised on the wording of a call for changes to a planned redeployment of U.S. Marines on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa.

In a joint statement, they said they would “raise the issue” of revising an agreement governing U.S. military forces in Japan and seek changes to a deal under which some 8,000 Marines are to be moved to Guam and a Marine base relocated within Okinawa.

Media said the Social Democrats had sought stronger wording.

The Democratic Party itself is a mix of security hawks and doves, and some analysts have expressed concern that reaching agreement on policies will be further complicated by the coalition with the pacifist Social Democrats.

“I think they will continue to criticize and cause delays in decision-making while in government. But if they are told to get out of the coalition they will say ‘wait a minute’ — that’s the SDP (Social Democratic Party),” said Yoshiaki Kobayashi, a professor of political science at Keio University in Tokyo.

OBAMA IN MIND

An agreement had been expected on Tuesday. Kobayashi characterized the delay as a “performance” by the Social Democrats to persuade their supporters that they would have a voice in government.

The new ruling Democrats have already vowed to re-think the U.S. troop redeployment plan but may want to play down the issue ahead of Hatoyama’s first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama later this month. U.S. officials have said they will not renegotiate the deal.

The new ruling party’s pledge to forge a more independent stance from key security ally Washington has raised concern about possible friction, although Hatoyama has said the alliance remains at the core of Japan’s diplomacy.

Hatoyama is set to be voted in as prime minister by parliament on September 16, ending more than half a century of almost unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party and ushering in a government pledged to putting more money in the hands of consumers, cutting waste and reducing bureaucrats’ control over policy-making.

Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie

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