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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DPJ struggles to reach consensus on opposition-amended legislation

Staff writers

The strife within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan intensified Monday as members argued whether to endorse amendments to the government's social security and tax reform plan to seal a deal with two opposition parties whose backing is needed to pass the contentious legislation.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda wants the bills, including one to double the 5 percent consumption tax, approved by the Lower House on Thursday, when the Diet is scheduled to close. But internal opposition to the tax hike is threatening to split the young party.

"I am hoping to finish the necessary procedures within the party immediately and have the Diet committee deliberate on the amendments and ultimately vote on them so that the bills will pass the Lower House," DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

A closed meeting to reach a consensus on the revisions was held at a Tokyo hotel Monday evening but dragged on for four hours because antitax members loyal to DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa fiercely fought the amendments and demanded the vote be postponed.

The antitax faction was furious about the trilateral agreement struck Friday by the DPJ, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito because it would basically scrap some of the DPJ's key policies, including one guaranteeing a minimum pension of ¥70,000 a month and one eliminating medical insurance for seniors.

"There is no way I can approve the amendments . . . They are completely denying our election manifesto," said DPJ lawmaker Hiroshi Kawauchi. "There is no need to hurry and hold a vote. We should hold thorough discussions on what is necessary for the people."

Ozawa and his allies are trying to prevent Noda and his administration from passing the tax bill, but the DPJ needs the support of the LDP and New Komeito to get legislation through the powerful Lower House.

Koshiishi emphasized that the antitax members will ultimately have to follow the party's decision and support the bills.

Meanwhile, LDP President Tanigaki agreed with New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi that the Lower House should vote on the matter by Thursday.

"The DPJ should reach a conclusion immediately" on when the bills will be voted on, he said at a meeting with LDP members in the morning. He also said he will push Noda to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election as soon as possible.

Noda is expected to meet with Tanigaki and Yamaguchi on Wednesday after returning from the Group of 20 summit in Mexico. He will need their support not just for the legislation, but to keep the Diet open beyond Thursday.

The DPJ's executives are considering extending the session until August to pass key bills, including a one needed to authorize the issuance of deficit-covering bonds to cover the fiscal 2012 budget.

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The Japan Times

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