Japan Democrats' No. 2 moves to defuse criticism

Tue Mar 23, 2010 7:00am EDT
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By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO (Reuters) - The kingpin of Japan's floundering ruling party, Ichiro Ozawa, tried to soften his autocratic image on Tuesday ahead of a key election by urging an outspoken critic to stay on in a senior party position.

Yukio Ubukata had been set for dismissal after saying last week most members of the Democratic Party thought Ozawa should resign if he failed to regain public trust after three of his current and former aides were charged in a funding scandal.

But Ozawa asked Ubukata on Tuesday to stay on, and the offer was accepted.

"I told him that this is an important time for the party to unite and cooperate ahead of the upper house election," Ozawa told a news conference.

Ozawa sidestepped a question about whether he would try to explain the funding scandal better, as Ubukata has suggested.

Though he has no cabinet post, Ozawa is widely seen as the real power behind the government and his strategic skills as essential for an upper house election expected in July, in which the party needs to win a majority to avoid political deadlock.

But polls show fundraising scandals overshadowing him and other ruling party lawmakers are the main reason for the government's tumbling support rates.

Only 30.5 percent of respondents to a poll published in the Sankei newspaper on Tuesday said they supported Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government, compared with levels of more than 70 percent when he took office in September.   Continued...

<p>A plane approaches to land at the U.S. Futenma air base as a family look on, in Ginowan, southern island of Okinawa March 31, 2006. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>