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Friday, Aug. 8, 2008
Machimura steels himself for another Diet session
By MASAMI ITO
The key to getting bills and personnel appointments through the divided Diet is "patience," says Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.
Since the inauguration of Yasuo Fukuda's first Cabinet last September, Machimura has been the prime minister's right-hand man. But with the opposition-controlled Upper House rejecting key bills and appointments, it has been a trying 10 months for Machimura.
"I had to use an enormous amount of energy for (this divided Diet)," Machimura said during an interview this week after he was reappointed as the government's top spokesman. "It was beyond my imagination that the opposition parties would oppose so many (bills) — for reasons I still don't understand."
The Democratic Party of Japan scored a landslide victory in last summer's Upper House election and has since been trying to corner Fukuda into dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election. If the DPJ wins the next election, it will become the ruling party.
But critics have pointed out that while the DPJ has advocated various ideas, including managing the pension system properly and giving allowances to people with children, it has been less than forthcoming on how it would fund these proposals.
"The DPJ needs more than rosy dreams to become a responsible political party and control the government," Machimura charged. "The DPJ should back up its policies by identifying its source of revenue instead of just making irresponsible remarks."
The key issue in the upcoming extraordinary Diet session is likely to be whether to extend the special law enabling the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational warships in the Indian Ocean engaged in counterterrorism activities.
In January, the opposition camp led by the DPJ rejected the mission in the Upper House. The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc had to hold an overriding vote in the Lower House to ram it through the Diet. Under Article 59 of the Constitution, a bill rejected by the Upper House can be approved with a two-thirds vote in the Lower House.
"People often ask (whether we plan on using) the two-thirds vote (again), but we haven't even reached the starting line," Machimura said. "It is a backward discussion to be talking about the two-thirds vote — the first thing is to begin deliberations in the Diet between the ruling and opposition parties."
Machimura stressed the importance of the bill and said the DPJ should not vote it down just because the party rejected it last time.
"I think that peace in the Indian Ocean where many Japanese oil tankers operate is surely in the national interests," Machimura said. "The Diet is a place where (the ruling and opposition parties) discuss issues to find a common goal . . . and I hope the DPJ will make the next Diet session one that draws out what is necessary and what is a good answer for the people and the nation instead of focusing mainly on politics."
Whether to raise the 5 percent consumption tax is another key issue facing the Fukuda administration this fall. Machimura refrained from stating his opinion but pointed out that there is more to the discussion of overall tax reform than the consumption tax. This includes the income, corporate and residential taxes.
"Why we need drastic tax reform is to make the taxation system logical," Machimura said. Also, "it is unwholesome to try to cover ¥80 trillion in government spending with tax revenues of only ¥50 trillion, and if this continues, we will end up leaving a pile of debt for the next generation."
As for a comprehensive economic policy, Machimura said now is the time to address individual issues, like the surge in oil prices, rather than focus on macroeconomic measures such as reducing income and corporate taxes.
"I don't really feel macro measures need to be taken in the current situation," he said. "But I think (the government) needs to be flexible."
Machimura, who was also the state minister in charge of issues pertaining to Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese until last week's reshuffle, expressed regret the probe into the missing Japanese in North Korea has not moved forward.
North Korea "is a difficult country and the current situation is that there has not been much progress on how to conduct the probe," Machimura said. "I am hopeful that North Korea will take logical measures. We must apply pressure and at the same time hold firm discussions."