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Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Diet votes to continue session into summer
Despite threats from the opposition to boycott future Diet sessions, the House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to extend the current ordinary session by 40 days.
Rather than end Wednesday, the session will now conclude July 28.
The Liberal Democratic Party, along with New Komeito and the New Conservative Party, argued for the extension, which they said is necessary to deliberate and enact a government-sponsored bill dispatching the Self-Defense Forces to help reconstruct Iraq.
But the hardline stance by the opposition camp indicates a rocky road ahead for the ruling bloc if it hopes to secure passage of the controversial bill by the end of the extended session.
The four opposition parties -- the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party -- questioned the legitimacy of the U.S.-led war and the subsequent occupation of Iraq. They also pointed out that the unstable security situation there would endanger SDF personnel, who can only use weapons under strict conditions, such as self-defense.
Meanwhile, observers said the Diet extension will enable Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is also president of the LDP, to shorten a potential political vacuum and exert more influence over his party before its presidential election in September.
Anti-Koizumi forces within the LDP have demanded that the prime minister quickly end the current Diet session and reshuffle his Cabinet. They want him to drop his fiscal austerity policy in the process in the hopes of bolstering the economy.
Although Koizumi has refused to bow to such pressure, two close allies -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki -- indicated Monday that he may reshuffle his Cabinet after the presidential race.
Attention is now focused on the fate of reform-minded ministers, like Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka, in any Cabinet shakeup.
However, a Cabinet reshuffle wouldn't necessarily mean that Koizumi would drop or decelerate his structural reform agenda.