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Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010
Ozawa scandal dogs start of Diet session
LDP wants explanations; Hatoyama on defensive
By ALEX MARTIN
The 150-day regular Diet session convened Monday with the money scandals embroiling Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expected to snarl efforts by the ruling bloc to pass budget and other bills.
The 174th regular session, the four-month-old administration's first marathon Diet faceoff with the opposition, kicked off just days after three former Ozawa aides were arrested over a political donations scandal already starting to hit voter support.
Speaking to reporters in the morning, Hatoyama said that while he intends to stand firmly behind Ozawa, he also believes the DPJ kingpin owes the public an explanation.
Ozawa's former aides were arrested for failing to declare in his political funding report ¥400 million that was used to buy a Tokyo property in 2004. Prosecutors suspect part of the money came from illegal donations possibly paid by general contractors.
"He said he will continue to fight (the allegations). I believe this also implies he intends to give the public an explanation," Hatoyama said.
His warning to Ozawa came after Hatoyama was rebuked for remarks he made at a DPJ convention Saturday that appeared to defend Ozawa, who last spring stepped down as party president, also over a money scandal.
Critics said Hatoyama "went too far" and "lacked fairness" by encouraging Ozawa to fight on, notwithstanding the prime minister's role as the country's chief law enforcement officer and head of the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Hatoyama rejected that charge and said his remarks were not meant as criticism toward prosecutors. He is embroiled in a scandal of his own, centered around falsified entries by his political fund-management body to allegedly disguise more than ¥1 billion provided by his mother, heiress to the Bridgestone tire empire.
To deal with the recession, the government on Monday submitted a secondary budget for fiscal 2009 to fund stimulus measures, which it aims to get passed by the end of the month. It will also work to pass the fiscal 2010 budget by the end of March so it can address other key policies.
"We need to implement policies that protect the livelihood of our people, especially considering our current economic situation," Hatoyama said.
Later during a meeting of DPJ lawmakers, he stressed the importance of party unity.
"This is going to be a difficult Diet session — a challenging one," he said. Ozawa was absent from the meeting.
The opposition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, is planning a strong front against the ruling bloc, vowing to pursue the scandal linked to Ozawa as well as Hatoyama's alleged misdeeds.
The opposition wants Ozawa, the people involved in both his and the Hatoyama scandals, including Hatoyama's mother, to give a full account in testimony before the Diet.
"The supplementary budget is important, but to restore political credibility we ask that intense deliberations be conducted on the issue of politics and money," LDP Diet Affairs Chief Jiro Kawasaki said.
At a meeting of LDP lawmakers, party President Sadakazu Tanigaki expressed his strong intention to go after the DPJ scandals.
"It is deeply alarming to watch the parade of arrests and indictments befalling those close to the prime minister and the secretary general of the ruling party," Tanigaki said. "I will stand at the helm of the battle for the good of the nation."
The ruling bloc responded by offering to host a debate between Hatoyama and other party leaders in return for the opposition's cooperation in passing the secondary budget by the end of the month.
Following the Diet's opening ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who recently took over as finance minister from Hirohisa Fujii, delivered a fiscal policy speech.
Hatoyama plans to deliver an administrative policy speech after the secondary budget clears the Diet.
Kan said lawmakers should pass the budget without delay to combat falling prices and unemployment.
Information from Bloomberg added