Veteran Japanese powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa and 51 of his followers said Monday they will leave the country’s ruling party over a sales tax hike.
The 52 lawmakers — 40 from the lower house and 12 from the upper chamber of parliament — submitted their resignations to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), one of them told reporters.
Noda and senior DPJ officials will hold an executive meeting later in the day to discuss how to handle their resignations, party officials said.
The widely-trailed bolt is a blow to Noda, but does not overturn the DPJ’s majority in the lower house, which has the power to appoint prime ministers.
Many of the defectors were among the 57 DPJ lawmakers who voted last Friday against legislation to double consumption tax to help pay off Japan’s mountainous debt.
After months of furious horse-trading that brought the two largest opposition parties on board, the bills cleared a lower house ballot easily and passage through the upper house looks to be in little doubt.
Noda, who has staked his premiership on a tax rise widely believed to be a sensible way for Japan to begin plugging its fiscal hole, has warned he would deal with party dissidents “strictly, following party rules.”