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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Budget passed but 16 in DPJ skip vote

Ringleader to be suspended; Kan under more pressure to call election


By NATSUKO FUKUE and KANAKO TAKAHARA
Staff writers

The Democratic Party of Japan's executive council said Tuesday it will suspend the party membership of the leader of 16 DPJ rebels who refused to attend a Lower House plenary vote on the fiscal 2011 budget, which cleared the chamber anyway in a session the opposition camp prolonged into the early morning hours.

The DPJ Standing Officers Council wants Koichiro Watanabe's membership put on hold for six months while only warning his 15 cohorts, apparently fearing a backlash at a time when the votes of all members will be needed, plus more, to get the budget-related bills through the divided Diet.

The rebellion by the 16 junior members, all allies of indicted DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, has put more pressure on Prime Minister Naoto Kan to make every effort to gain the support of the opposition camp in passing the budget-related bills, even if he has to promise to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

"Kan is in a hopeless situation," said Hirotada Asakawa, a political commentator, predicting Kan will dissolve the chamber in May or June.

"The possible scenario is that he will try to persuade the opposition parties to cooperate on the budget-related bills in exchange for a snap election," he said.

The party's ethics panel must finalize the decision to suspend Watanabe's membership for six months.

The 16 Ozawa loyalists tried last month to form another parliamentary group without renouncing their DPJ membership. They failed because the party, citing Diet rules, wouldn't consent to their action.

During a news conference Tuesday, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said he wants to give the 15 rebels besides Watanabe another chance, but he also warned of more serious punishment if there is further rebellion.

"It is a secretary general's job to educate the first-year lawmakers," Okada said.

Watanabe declined comment on the punishment at a news conference later in the day, except to say, "We don't support the budget but we don't go against it, either," indicating why he and his 15 comrades skipped the plenary session.

He claimed their boycott had nothing to do with the recent decision to suspend Ozawa's party membership.

The revolt has underlined the shaky political base of Kan's administration. If the rebels again refuse to vote for the budget-related bills — critically important to finance the debt-ridden government — it will become almost impossible for Kan to have them enacted in the divided Diet.

To override the opposition-controlled Upper House to pass the bills, the ruling bloc-controlled Lower House needs at least 318 votes, a two-thirds majority of that chamber.

The DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) ruling bloc has 311 seats at present. If it were to lose the vote of the 16 rebels, this would deal a fatal blow to Kan, whose administration in particular desperately needs passage of a special bill authorizing the issuance of massive deficit-covering government bonds to cover about 40 percent of the ¥92.4 trillion budget.

Kan on Monday again strongly emphasized before the Lower House Budget Committee that he doesn't intend to dissolve the chamber.

"I want to do my best in my four-year term with the current DPJ-Kokumin Shinto bloc. I'd appreciate if the public can evaluate us through an election after that," Kan said, adding that dissolving the Lower House now would have a negative impact on the public.



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