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Saturday, Feb. 3, 2007
Extra budget shoved through Lower House
By MASAMI ITO
The ruling bloc -- the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito -- rammed a supplementary budget through the Lower House on Friday after the opposition camp boycotted deliberations in protest of health minister Hakuo Yanagisawa.
The vote came as female opposition lawmakers took to the streets calling for the dismissal of the minister, who referred to women as "child-bearing machines" in a speech to the local party faithful in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, on Jan. 27.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other ministers spent all day waiting for members of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) to show up after the House of Representatives Budget Committee session started at 9 a.m.
The committee eventually approved the extra budget later in the day and rammed it through a Lower House plenary session also conspicuously absent of the opposition.
The JCP, which also wants Yanagisawa to resign, also refused to participate in the committee deliberations in this "abnormal state" without the other opposition parties in attendance, but Abe has repeatedly expressed his intention to keep Yanagisawa on.
LDP Secretary General Hidenao Nakagawa slammed the opposition boycott, stressing that the supplementary budget covers important issues, including measures against natural disasters and a new influenza virus.
The opposition parties' refusal to deliberate on the budget is an action based on "party interests -- (to win) upcoming elections," Nakagawa told reporters. "(But) it could encourage public distrust in politics. If (the opposition parties) have an argument, they should discuss it fair and square in the Diet -- that is the job entrusted to political parties and politicians by the public."
Nakagawa stressed that while Yanagisawa's remark was "inappropriate," he has repeatedly apologized.
"It was obviously a slip of the tongue," Nakagawa said. "I don't think (Yanagisawa) is trying to address the issue of the falling birthrate based on any disdain for women."
The female opposition lawmakers staged their rally in Tokyo's Yurakucho district Friday, gathering dozens of spectators.
One listener, Keiko Sato, said she felt totally ashamed that Japan had a minister who would make such a remark.
"Of course (Yanagisawa) should resign," Sato said, her voice rising. "I felt like I was being shown once again how poor Japanese politics is."
Female and male lawmakers from all four opposition parties showed up for the event, including SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima.
"I am filled with shock and anger that (a person) who compared women to child-bearing machines is a minister," Fukushima said. "Children are not tools for the nation, nor are women giving birth to children to (secure) revenue sources for pensions."
Another participant, DPJ lawmaker Hiroshi Ogushi, recalled witnessing the birth of his two children.
"I never thought I could fully understand how strenuous, risky and difficult it is to give birth and raise children," Ogushi said. "Having the experience of not being able to do anything but watch (my wife give birth), I could never say that my wife is just a child-bearing machine."
Yanagisawa made the comment during a Jan. 27 speech on the declining birthrate and the strained social welfare and pension system.
"The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed," Yanagisawa said during the speech in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture. "Because the number of child-bearing machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is for them to do their best per head."