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UPPER HOUSE VETO POWER

Eyes turn to how DPJ wields new clout

by Reiji Yoshida

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News photo
Democratic Party of Japan executives Naoto Kan – and Yukio Hatoyama beam Sunday as they place a flower signifying a win next to a name on the DPJ’s list of candidates at party headquarters in Tokyo.
SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

But DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa was conspicuously absent from any victory fanfare Sunday, and questions about his health continued to make the rounds.

Under the bicameral legislature, a government sponsored-bill must clear both chambers to be enacted. Now the opposition parties are poised to have the power to veto any bill submitted by the Cabinet or the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition.

With the ruling bloc occupying more than two-thirds of the powerful Lower House, it would ultimately be able to override any Upper House rejection. But that would likely involve great political risk for the coalition, as ensuing political battles would put contentious issues in the spotlight and anger voters.

Mikio Aoki, who heads the Upper House caucus of LDP lawmakers, has repeatedly said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet would be “half-dead” if the ruling bloc lost its majority in the chamber.

He reiterated this position when asked his opinion Sunday night.

“Having lost a majority, handling (issues) in the Upper House will be very difficult,” a sullen-faced Aoki said before TV cameras. “It’s a matter of common sense.”

An ominous cloud looms over the LDP’s political horizon.

DPJ executives have already expressed their intention to hold the Upper House presidency, because the party is expected to be the No. 1 force in the chamber.

Capturing the post of president through a vote would empower the party to kill contentious bills. Merely by refusing to ring the ceremonial bell, plenary sessions cannot be convened, blocking any bill’s passage through the Upper House.

But killing every bill submitted by the government or ruling bloc would be risky for the opposition. Azuma Koshiishi, chairman of DPJ Upper House members, said the party must approve “good bills” even if they are submitted by the government or ruling party.

“We will maintain that good tradition of the Upper House,” Koshiishi said. But he indicated he won’t be reluctant to flex the DPJ’s new political muscle. His party, he said, would be perfectly willing to kill “any bad bill.”

Now that the ruling coalition holds a majority only in the Lower House and the opposition camp controls the Upper House, parties are expected to be more sensitive toward voters in handling controversial legislation.

Meanwhile, DPJ President Ozawa didn’t appear before the public or on television despite his party’s emerging victory, and aides have said he was fatigued after a hard-fought campaign.

According to DPJ acting President Naoto Kan, doctors advised Ozawa to forgo appearances because he needs “one or two days” of rest.

Political insiders have questioned whether Ozawa is healthy enough to be a candidate for prime minister.