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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012

Noda muzzled as Diet opens extra session

Opposition bars Upper House speech; two more bolt DPJ

Staff writer

The extraordinary Diet session kicked off Monday in an unprecedented manner as the opposition-controlled Upper House refused to let Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda give his policy speech in the chamber, a sign that he and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan are in for a rough ride.

Adding to Noda's woes, two DPJ lawmakers submitted letters of resignation Monday morning, leaving the ruling DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) bloc in a critical state, as its Lower House majority is just six lawmakers above the line.

If the ruling bloc loses its majority in the chamber, the opposition camp can pass a vote of no confidence against the Noda Cabinet that would force the prime minister and his team to either resign en masse or dissolve the house and call a snap election.

Atsushi Kumada and Tomohiko Mizuno, both DPJ freshmen who rejected Noda's key tax hike bill during the previous Diet session, are set to join Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura's Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Party).

The 33-day extraordinary Diet session has just begun, but the political outlook is stormy as the ruling and opposition parties are poised once again to collide over the timing of the next Lower House general election.

The Liberal Democratic Party and other opposition parties in the Upper House argued that the censure motion slapped on Noda during the regular Diet session is still in effect as long as he is prime minister and therefore refused to let him deliver his opening day speech in the chamber.

"The state of the Upper House is in question and nothing like this has happened under the current Constitution," said DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, an Upper House lawmaker. "But we would like to follow the rules and hold thorough deliberations," he said.

Meanwhile, the LDP Lower House lawmakers did not go along with its Upper House counterparts and decided to attend Monday's plenary session to hear what Noda had to say.

"The Lower House (LDP) lawmakers decided to attend the plenary session to listen to the prime minister's policy speech and express our party's views," said LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba.

In his policy speech, Noda repeatedly sought cooperation from the opposition camp to pass key legislation that failed to clear the previous Diet session, especially the deficit-covering bond bill needed to cover about 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget.

The opposition has been holding the bill hostage to force Noda into dissolving the Lower House for an election by year's end. But the foot-dragging on the bond bill is already beginning to affect the government's finances, and the LDP stands to face public criticism for using it as a political tool.

"Without the issuance of special government bonds it would be impossible to execute fiscal management at present, no matter what administration is in power. By necessity, there have already been restrictions on implementation within budgets for the regions and other budgets, and should this situation continue... (it could cause) serious difficulties in the daily lives of the public while having a dampening effect on the revitalization of the economy," Noda stressed.

"Will we relapse into the unproductive politics of interparty antagonism, in which the political situation is given primacy? Or will we be able to engage in debate, giving consideration first and foremost to policies, and properly put forth conclusions to matters that must be addressed?" Noda asked, challenging the opposition camp.

The prime minister also emphasized the need to immediately rectify the vote-value disparity in both the Lower and Upper houses that the Supreme Court has declared to be in "a state of unconstitutionality."

It is generally felt that Noda will not be able to dissolve the lower chamber without getting the DPJ-sponsored bill to partially rectify the vote-value disparities passed first.

Over the weekend, Noda hinted he could call an election if the vote-value disparity is resolved. The bill his party is pushing would ease the gap, but only partially.

But on Monday, he made no mention of a poll anytime soon, and the LDP-led oppositioncamp is set to make things as difficult as possible for Noda in the month-long extraordinary Diet session.

"It surely cannot be a good thing endlessly to repeat politics in which the things that everyone must accomplish are tied to the political situation all for nothing and in which energy is perpetually poured into power struggles," Noda said. "We cannot allow a situation in which a political vacuum is created haphazardly, bringing policy-making to a standstill."

While domestic politics continue their inward-looking battle, Japan's diplomatic situation is also deteriorating, especially with China and South Korea over separate territorial disputes.

But instead of adding fuel to the fire Monday, Noda avoided calling out the two nations and just stated he would protect Japanese territory.

"There can be no doubt that the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe, to a degree never before experienced," Noda said.

"We will with unwavering resolve carry out in accordance with international law our natural responsibilities as a nation, of protecting Japan's peace and safety while defending our territory and territorial waters."

The prime minister also added that while the Japan-U.S. alliance is the nation's diplomatic foundation, he condemned the recent alleged rape of a Japanese woman in Okinawa by two U.S. Navy sailors as "unforgivable."

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The Japan Times

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