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Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2007

Q&A

DPJ's prospects with upper hand in Upper House


Staff writer

The July 29 House of Councilors election brought a landslide victory to the Democratic Party of Japan, which together with the other opposition forces gained a majority in the chamber. In addition, the DPJ won the largest number of seats on a single-party basis and thus will grab the Upper House presidency.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party still holds a majority in the more powerful Lower House, the ruling bloc's defeat in the Upper House is expected to cause political turbulence. Following are questions and answers regarding the repercussions:

What will change in politics after the ruling bloc's Upper House setback?

By grabbing a majority in the Upper House, the DPJ-led opposition camp can now veto bills that are approved by the LDP-controlled Lower House. Although the lower chamber can override the upper chamber, the opposition can now engage in a more realistic Diet tug of war.

In the past, the Upper House was considered a rubber stamp for the Lower House. The LDP-New Komeito bloc ruled both chambers and thus got its bills passed, although some drew fire from the opposition over their perceived loopholes. Because it didn't control either chamber, all the opposition could do was boycott legislative sessions or prolong plenary session votes on bills.

What happens if the Upper House rejects a bill?

The Lower House can override any Upper House decision with a two-thirds vote. But if both chambers deadlock over three key items — the national budget, treaties and selecting the prime minister — they must attempt a compromise. If the negotiations fail, the lower chamber's decision automatically prevails.

Because the LDP-New Komeito bloc holds two-thirds of the lower chamber — which it won in the 2005 landslide for former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration and postal system privatization agenda — it has the numbers it needs to eventually ram vital bills through.

What are the DPJ's options if aLower House decision prevails?

The DPJ has two options. One is to use its usual boycotting and delaying tactics to "paralyze" LDP-proposed legislation or prolong deliberation until the Upper House runs out of time.

Some observers initially expected DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, known for aggressive tactics, to direct the party to slow down the process by blocking every bill approved by the LDP-led Lower House.

The DPJ, however, has recently said it will also consider another approach.

"You are just focusing on whether the DPJ will approve or disapprove bills to be submitted by the government or the ruling coalition. But our stance is different," DPJ Deputy President Naoto Kan told a news conference Thursday.

He said the party aims to achieve the goals of its platform by legislating policies in the Upper House. That way, the party can show the public its vision for government, he said.

As a first step, the DPJ will submit a bill to the Upper House to prohibit pension premiums from being used for other purposes and a bill to set stricter rules on political money. It will also submit bills to the Upper House that would require funding, such as bills to subsidize farmers to sustain the agricultural sector and bills to extend financial help to parents with young children to help curb the falling birthrate.

What else can the DPJ-led Upper House do?

The DPJ's grip on key positions in the chamber is another change. Because the Upper House president has wide-ranging authority, including the right to open plenary sessions, the DPJ is expected to take the initiative in deliberations in the chamber.

The party is expected to head influential Upper House committees, including the standing committee for house management.

Its control of the Upper House will also affect personnel appointments that require approval by both chambers, including governors and deputy governors of the Bank of Japan.

DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama has already indicated the party will oppose promoting BOJ Deputy Gov. Toshiro Muto, a former top Finance Ministry bureaucrat seen as a likely successor to Gov. Toshihiko Fukui, due to his bureaucratic background.

What are other possible actions by the DPJ?

The DPJ is preparing an offensive and ultimately hopes to control both Diet chambers by winning a general election.

Ozawa has said his party will oppose the ruling bloc's plan to submit to the next extraordinary Diet session a bill to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force deployment to the Indian Ocean, where MSDF warships are providing fuel and other logistic support to the multinational force engaged in antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan.

If the LDP-led Lower House conflicts with the DPJ-led Upper House on this or any other bill, the DPJ will demand that the ruling bloc dissolve the Lower House so voters can make their own judgment on controversial issues.

"We want to carry out what we can do until we take over the government," Kan said Thursday.

It is yet to be seen if the LDP will collide head-on with the DPJ. Since the July 29 election, Abe has repeatedly said the ruling bloc will cooperate with the DPJ in the Diet.

The opposition camp can also submit nonbinding censor motions to the Upper House against the prime minister and other members of his Cabinet. Although such Upper House motions are not stipulated under the Constitution and have no legal power, they could have a negative impact on the government if passed.

But Ozawa has said his party does not plan such motions for now.



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