Pension bills’ passage delayed by opposition

No-confidence, censure motions launched

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The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties put up a last-ditch defense against a contentious set of pension bills on Friday, employing a series of delaying tactics to put off the final vote in the House of Councilors.

The coalition had planned to have the legislation clear the Diet on Friday, but enactment was delayed after the Upper House plenary session was adjourned until early Saturday to deliberate an opposition-proposed resolution calling for the dismissal of a welfare committee chairman.

The session was to reopen shortly after midnight, and the bills were likely to be approved Saturday.

The opposition also prepared other no-confidence and censure motions against Cabinet members and ruling coalition lawmakers to delay the vote on the pension bills. Nonconfidence and censure motions take precedence over other matters, including voting on legislation.

The pension reform bills, which would increase premiums and reduce benefits over the coming 19 years, are one of the major items on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s legislative agenda pending before the Diet. The current Diet session adjourns June 16.

Already approved by the House of Representatives, the bills were rammed through the House of Councilors welfare committee on Thursday, infuriating the opposition camp.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party have jointly submitted to both chambers of the Diet draft resolutions calling for dismissal of Masayuki Kunii, chairman of the Upper House Committee on Health, Welfare and Labor, and Seiichi Eto, chairman of its Lower House counterpart.

The resolution calling for dismissal of Eto was voted down by the ruling coalition lawmakers at the Lower House plenary session in the afternoon after Lower House Speaker Yohei Kono limited voting time to prevent the opposition from resorting to the “ox-walk” tactic, in which lawmakers walk at a snail’s pace as they cast their ballots.

After spending nearly two hours on the vote, Kono declared the voting terminated, even though some opposition lawmakers had not yet cast ballots. He ordered the ballot box closed and declared the resolution as being rejected.

At the Upper House plenary session, DPJ member Yuko Mori spent about three hours explaining the objective of the resolution for dismissing Kunii. Two other opposition lawmakers took four more hours presenting followup statements.

The ruling coalition then proposed the session be adjourned until shortly past midnight before voting on the resolution. The opposition camp meanwhile vowed to use the ox-walk when voting at the Upper House.

“We’re glad that many of the problems with the bills were brought to light through the deliberations,” SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima said. “We’ll keep it up to have the bills scrapped.”

The opposition blamed Eto for “hiding” the fact that he had failed to join the mandatory national pension program for about 12 years through early January 2002, until his committee approved the pension reform legislation last month.

Kunii was criticized for taking a vote on a motion submitted by ruling coalition lawmakers to terminate debate at his committee on Thursday, preventing both SDP and JCP lawmakers from submitting questions to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi before the pension bills was hurriedly put to a committee vote.

The opposition camp also prepared a censure motion against Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi and a motion of no confidence against Upper House President Hiroyuki Kurata, who used his authority to open Friday’s plenary session.