Shinzo Abe, Japan’s struggling prime minister, on Sunday gambled his premiership on the extension of a special anti-terrorism law, saying he would quit if parliament refused to renew it.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house after July’s defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party, has threatened to veto the renewal of the legislation, which expires on November 1.
The issue is expected to dominate an extraordinary session of parliament, which opens on Monday, as the DPJ seeks to embarrass Mr Abe internationally and force him to step down.
Mr Abe, speaking at a press conference in Sydney at the close of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, said he had “no intention of sticking to my duties” if the law could not be extended.
The law allows Japan to refuel allied ships in the Indian Ocean for operations relating to Afghanistan.
At the weekend, President George W. Bush urged Mr Abe to steer the legislation through, describing Japanese help in the Indian Ocean as “absolutely essential”.
Ichiro Ozawa, DPJ leader, has long voiced his opposition to Japan acting abroad in operations not sanctioned by the UN. Political analysts say his ideological objections provide useful cover for the more immediate objective of toppling Mr Abe and forcing a general election.
Members of the DPJ have suggested that some of the US ships supplied in the Indian Ocean by Japan may end up in Iraq rather than Afghanistan, an accusation that could further damage public support for the operation. The government and foreign ministry have denied this. Fukushiro Nukaga, the heavyweight finance minister in Mr Abe’s post-election cabinet, underlined the sense of crisis in the LDP, saying: “This is no time for party infighting. It would be very unfortunate if politics became unstable and policies couldn’t continue.”
Speaking to the foreign press, Mr Nukaga suggested that the LDP needed to refocus its message in response to voter anger. “There is an earnest voice from the people calling for more urgent measures to revitalise the regions,” he said. “We need policies so that the benefits of growth can be enjoyed broadly and widely.”
Mr Abe could be further damaged this week if opinion polls, as expected, show a fall in his approval rating after the re-emergence of money scandals in his cabinet. Last week, the farm minister quit, becoming the fifth minister to leave Mr Abe’s cabinet since he came to office last September. Political analysts say the spate of resignations reflects Mr Abe’s weakness rather than an unusual rash of corruption.