Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on Saturday he wants to maintain the ruling coalition even after firing the leader of a small allied party from her cabinet post.
Mizuho Fukushima, ousted as consumer affairs minister on Friday, suggested her Social Democratic Party (SDP) was unlikely to stay in the ruling bloc ahead of an upper house election expected in July.
Hatoyama fired Fukushima for resisting a U.S.-Japan deal on a Marine airbase on southern Okinawa island, widening a rift in his coalition as the election draws near.
His decision to give up on a pledge to shift the U.S. Marines’ Futenma airbase off the island has angered Okinawans, upset the leftist SDP, and further eroded support for Hatoyama’s government over perceived mishandling of the issue.
“To have fired me is to abandon the Social Democratic Party,” Fukushima was quoted by Japanese media as saying.
“We need to make an important decision,” she said.
An SPD departure would be ill-timed for Hatoyama’s Democratic Party ahead of the upper house election, which the Democrats must win to avoid policy stalemate.
But it would not topple the government because the Democrats have a huge majority in parliament’s more powerful lower house.
“I would like to ask the SDP for continued cooperation,” Hatoyama told reporters when asked about Fukushima’s comments.
“I would like to maintain the ruling coalition. But it is up to the SPD to decide, so we need to wait for the meeting of their local leaders,” he said.
Some Social Democrats want the party to leave the coalition, others want to stay in power to influence policy. The party will hold a meeting of representatives of local leaders on Sunday.
Hatoyama is in Seogwipo, a honeymoon resort on the South Korean island of Jeju, to attend a regional summit with leaders from China and South Korea.
(Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Paul Tait)