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Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012
Discord faces replay in extra session
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda kicked off an extraordinary session of the Diet on Monday that looks to be a continuation of the quid pro quo confrontation he faced in the last one.
Given his dismal public support rates, Noda and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan have little appetite for an election, and the prime minister is expected to dig in his heels further and snub opposition pressure to call a Lower House poll by year's end.
"There is little likelihood that Noda will dissolve the Lower House this year," said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor of political science at Nihon University. "Who wants an election when the support rate is so low?"
The opposition camp, led by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, appears to be running out of pressure strategies, despite planning to press the prime minister over recent points of contention. Noda in August vaguely vowed to dissolve the Lower House "soon" in exchange for the opposition's support on the consumption tax bill.
According to a poll by the Asahi Shimbun conducted on Oct. 20 and 21, Noda's administration was polling at 18 percent support — the worst since he took office in September 2011.
"The harder the opposition demands an election within this year, the harder the Democratic Party of Japan will resist," political analyst Minoru Morita said.
Sunday's victory of LDP-backed candidate Kazuaki Miyaji in the Lower House by-election in Kagoshima Prefecture was seen as a sign of the DPJ's waning clout. It was the first election for a national-level seat since Noda took office and bodes ill for the party's chances in a general election.
Morita said the by-election was a setback but not grounds for dissolving the Lower House. Instead, he said Noda should use the outcome as further incentive to fight. Miyaji won by a narrow tally of 70,694 votes to Takeshi Noma's 65,025.
The 71-year-old former senior vice health minister was also backed by close LDP ally New Komeito. He beat Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party) candidate Noma, 54, who was backed by its ruling coalition partner, the DPJ.
The Kagoshima election was held to fill the vacancy left by the late financial services minister Tadahiro Matsushita, a Kokumin Shinto member who committed suicide in September.
Miyaji's victory was also the first electoral win since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returned to the LDP helm in late September.
The result "clearly shows" the public's denial of the "insincere DPJ-led government," Abe claimed, calling on Noda to "sincerely listen to the voices calling" for the prime minister to put his fate before voters.
Voter turnout was 56.60 percent, according to the Kagoshima election board, down 16.35 points from the 2009 election for the constituency.
In the extra Diet session, the opposition plans to confront Noda over his Sept. 1 appointment of Keishu Tanaka as justice minister. Tanaka was forced to resign a month into office, reportedly for health reasons, after coming under the media spotlight for his decades-old yakuza ties and illicit donations from a foreign national.
The opposition parties are not expected, however, to resort to their usual boycott of Diet deliberations on key bills because they don't want to face a public outcry for failing to pass major DPJ-sponsored bills as they did in the wake of the March 11 disasters, according to analysts.
In fact, Abe said Thursday that the LDP will attend deliberations. "We don't plan on holding the people's livelihood hostage, and we are not planning to snub deliberations," he said.
The DPJ needs support from the LDP and New Komeito to pass the bills because the opposition parties control the Upper House.
In the new Diet session, which ends Nov. 30, the DPJ needs at least two key bills to be passed. One is the bond bill, which covers about 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget. The Finance Ministry says the government will run out of money if it is not passed by the end of November.
The other is a bill to partially correct the unconstitutional vote-value disparities in the Lower House.
Under the current electoral system, the value of one vote in depopulated constituencies is higher than that in populated areas, which means it is more difficult for candidates in constituencies with large populations to win.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the disparities of up to 2.3 in the 2009 general election were in "a state of unconstitutionality."
The DPJ and LDP submitted their own bills to rectify the vote-value gap in the previous Diet session in summer, but no progress was made because the LDP does not support the DPJ plan to reduce the 480-seat Lower House by cutting 40 proportional representation seats in addition to one single-seat constituency in five prefectures.
Noda asked Abe and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi this month to cooperate on the bills' passage, but the opposition leaders would not commit unless Noda clarifies when he will call an election.
DPJ members say a general election by Dec. 9, as demanded by the LDP and New Komeito, is not possible because to actually hold the poll, the government needs at least three months to go by after the electoral reform bill is passed to lay the groundwork for any new arrangement.
Whether or not the election will be held by year's end, it is clear Noda will have to make further efforts to ensure no more DPJ members defect and jeopardize the ruling bloc's fragile Lower House majority.
The DPJ holds 243 seats in the Lower House, down from 308 in 2009 when it won in a landslide victory. The drop was caused after many left to join Kokumin no Seikatsu ga Daiichi (People's Life First), a party launched by ousted party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.
But on Monday, DPJ rookies Atsushi Kumada and Tomohiko Mizuno submitted their resignations to join Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) headed by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, leaving the ruling party struggling further to hold onto its majority.
"Noda may be able to postpone an election as long as possible, but it feels like his administration is in a terminal stage," said Iwai of Nihon University.