Japan political deadlock to deepen - media

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TOKYO, Nov 3 (Reuters) A political impasse threatening to block key policy steps will likely worsen after Japan's biggest opposition party rejected an offer to join the ruling camp, media said today, raising the possibility of an early election.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda proposed forming a new government coalition, in a bid to break a deadlock in parliament, when he met Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa yesterday. The offer, however, was swiftly rejected.

''No progress will be made in any of the important policies if the current situation persists,'' the Asahi Shimbun said following the collapse of Fukuda's proposal.

Friday's failure also strengthens the possibility that the next general election, which must be held by late 2009, could take place at a much earlier date.

The Asahi quoted an unnamed opposition lawmaker as saying that parliament could be dissolved either at the end of this year, or March next year.

The political gridlock forced Japan this week to halt its naval mission in support of US-led operations in Afghanistan -- regarded as vital by key ally Washington -- and threatens to delay other policy steps on areas such as pension and tax reform.

The United States has been pressing Japan, its close ally, to enact a new bill to allow Japan's navy to keep providing free fuel for US and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean, but the opposition has fought against the move.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said opposition parties' control of the upper house would continue even if Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were to win in the general election, which meant the political deadlock would continue.

''This is a situation that could continue for almost 10 years,'' it said.

Opposition parties gained control of the upper house after the LDP's defeat in an election held in July.

The business daily Nikkei warned that the current political situation could also be detrimental to Japan's status in the world.

''If the current situation continues, Japan will appear in the eyes of the world to have given up on the fight against terrorism, leading to fears of a decline in the country's position and voice on the world stage,'' it said.

REUTERS PJ ND1408

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