Postal privatization vote set for Monday

LDP rebels set for turbulent weekend

by Reiji Yoshida

The long-awaited showdown vote on the postal privatization bills that could determine the fate of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s administration has been delayed until at least Monday, officials said.

The bills are an integral part of Koizumi’s sweeping reform agenda, but they are bitterly opposed by many within his own party, who view the state-run postal system as a solid vote-gathering machine, as well as by opposition forces.

Liberal Democratic Party executives had initially sought to hold a final vote at a House of Councilors plenary session Friday, after putting the bills through a special committee of the Upper House on Thursday.

Opposition parties insisted Thursday, however, that a public hearing be held during sessions of the Upper House postal privatization special committee, which is currently debating the bills.

The bills need to be passed by the special committee before the final plenary session vote can be carried out.

Later Thursday, key members of the committee from the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan agreed for the bills to be put to a vote at the panel Friday.

The ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito now plans to have an Upper House plenary session vote on the bills Monday. The opposition camp, however, is seeking to further delay the vote and have the bills scrapped.

On the plus side for the bills’ proponents, postponement would give them more time to persuade rank-and-file members to vote for the measures.

But as lawmakers return to their constituencies over the weekend, they will probably be pressured into further resistance by local interest groups that oppose the reforms.

“I have no idea what effects (the postponement) will have,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.

Party and government sources said it is unclear whether the ruling bloc will be able to secure enough votes to enact the bills, as many LDP Upper House members have refused to disclose their voting intentions. “There remains a wide margin of undecided votes,” a senior government official said.

According to a Kyodo News survey, as of Wednesday, 11 LDP members said they would vote against the bills, while 23 said they had not yet made a decision. The bills will be voted down if 18 ruling bloc lawmakers vote against them.

Koizumi has hinted that if the Diet fails to pass the bills, he will call a snap election for the House of Representatives.

Ruling bloc lawmakers in the Upper House proposed Friday that a supplementary resolution be attached to the bills to ease concerns of opponents, who argue that the bills will eventually lead to a reduction in post offices and workers.

Details of the resolution will probably be proposed Friday at the special committee on postal reform, the committee chairman, Takao Jinnouchi, told reporters.

Postal ranks protest

Staff report

About 5,000 postal workers held a protest rally in Tokyo Thursday against postal privatization and what they call Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s dictatorial attempt to force the privatization bills through the Diet.

The rally was also attended by ex-Lower House Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki, who leads a group of opponents to postal reform within Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, as well as Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata.

“I’m not opposing the bills for the sake of (‘tokutei’) special post offices or postal unionists. I’m doing this for the whole nation,” Watanuki claimed. “I believe we can achieve our goal (of scrapping the bills) if our Upper House comrades stick to their guns before the plenary.”

Political science professor Kaoru Okano, leader of what is billed as the “post office fan club,” said: “In a democracy, (politicians) must work out problems by forthrightly debating in line with the parliamentary system. Jumping to the conclusion of privatization is dictatorship.”