LDP council drops consensus to stamp revised postal bills

by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Reiji Yoshida

Two months after the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent a package of postal privatization bills to the Diet, his Liberal Democratic Party’s Executive Council decided Tuesday to back a revised version of them by a majority vote.

It was the first time the party’s top decision-making body reached a decision based on majority vote. Its usual practice is to reach unanimous consent.

The change in the decision-making was “unprecedented in LDP history,” fumed council member and LDP heavyweight Shizuka Kamei, an opponent of postal privatization who declined to declare himself for or against the revised bills at Tuesday’s council meeting. “I just cannot accept such a vote.”

Several other council members declared their opposition to the revised bills. They had urged party executives to have the revamped legislation re-examined at the lower tiers of the party’s decision-making process before presenting them before the Executive Council in one single leap.

Council chairman Fumio Kyuma told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that all party members — including the prime minister, who has opposed watering down the bills — must obey Tuesday’s decision when the legislation is put to a vote at the Diet. But Kamei said he refuses to be bound by the party’s decision.

Now the LDP’s top brass hopes to get the bills through the House of Representatives by the end of the week so the House of Councilors can deliberate and pass them before the Aug. 13 end of the current Diet session.

But the schedule is fluid, given how the party remains split even after Tuesday’s council meeting. In addition, the LDP’s junior coalition partner New Komeito strongly opposes voting on the bills before Sunday’s Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election out of fear that confusion over the voting may negatively impact the polls.

Under the government’s privatization plan, Japan Post would be broken up into four entities and a holding firm.

The bills endorsed by the LDP on Tuesday were revised on four points. These included a call for guaranteeing that Japan Post’s mail-delivery, postal savings and postal life insurance businesses are effectively retained as one by allowing cross-sharing among the privatized entities that will handle those services and the holding company.

The bills were also revised to allow post offices that carry out over-the-counter services to continue to have a sales agency commitment with the savings and life insurance units beyond the 10-year transition period after the privatization process begins in 2007.

Revision to the government-proposed bills had been made through a series of negotiations between LDP executives and the government.

LDP leaders had feared that they would not be able to persuade the opponents of the bills into supporting the proposed legislation unless they revised them.

But Kamei argued that even the revised privatization bills “cannot guarantee that the three postal services (of mail delivery, postal savings and postal life insurance) will continue to be retained as one. Post offices would in the end disappear.”

Later Tuesday, Koizumi said the revisions do not run counter to his previous insistence that the privatization bills should not be changed.

“(The revision) doesn’t contradict (with what I’ve said) at all,” he told reporters at his official residence with a grin. “It’s just common Diet knowledge. If I’d said (the government) would consider revising the bills in the first place, then (the government) would have been forced to retract its bills and submit the revised ones immediately.”