His frustration occasionally flashing through, the normally low-key Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was unusually expressive Wednesday during his second one-on-one Diet debate with Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa.
Although Fukuda finally received the green light from the largest opposition force for his latest candidate for BOJ chief, Masaaki Shirakawa, the DPJ is dragging its heels to fill the second deputy governor post.
Before giving Shirakawa the nod, the DPJ-led Upper House torpedoed the candidacies of two previous choices largely due to their backgrounds — both were former vice finance ministers. And on Wednesday again, the chamber rejected another former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Hiroshi Watanabe, as the BOJ’s No. 2.
Initially ignoring Ozawa’s opening inquiry into the issue of freeing up road-related tax revenues for other uses, Fukuda plunged instead into the subject of BOJ personnel.
“I heard that the reason for the rejection was to stop the ‘amakudari’ of bureaucrats, but if the person is very qualified for the position, you shouldn’t deny (that person the job) just because he is a former bureaucrat,” Fukuda said, referring to the practice of parachuting retired bureaucrats into lucrative corporate jobs, much-criticized for leading to collusion.
“We chose the right person for the post,” Fukuda said. “I want to know the real reason why you had to reject them.”
Appearing somewhat taken aback, Ozawa prompted laughter from the gallery of lawmakers when he responded, “I thought these sessions were meant for the opposition party leaders to ask questions of the prime minister.”
The DPJ chief said his party opposed specific ministries controlling specific posts. “Even if there were very capable candidates in other ministries, you wouldn’t nominate them for BOJ governor, would you?” Ozawa asked.
“This post is part of the vested interests (of the Finance Ministry), so that’s the problem,” he added. “I believe this has to be fixed.”
Returning to the question of road-related taxes, Fukuda said he was willing to allow such revenue to be used for purposes other than road projects in fiscal 2009, which starts next April.
Charging that the DPJ seems reluctant to come to the negotiating table, Fukuda challenged Ozawa to agree to discuss the details as soon as possible.
In response, Ozawa asked Fukuda to clarify whether freeing up the revenue earmarked for roads — a clear setback for Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers with a lot at stake politically in road construction — was an idea that had received official support from the LDP, which he leads.
If it has not, and is simply Fukuda’s stance, the DPJ is not interested in discussing the matter, Ozawa said.
Fukuda countered: “I’m really having a hard time running the Diet because you are slow to make decisions. You have to understand that you are half responsible for the Diet, too.”
To this, Ozawa replied that the government must understand that “the public gave (the opposition parties) a majority in the upper chamber (in the July 2007 election) and you only have control of one house of the Diet, so it’s impossible for us to accept everything that you want to pass.”
Fukuda’s government and the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc have had a hard time passing legislation in the divided Diet. Meanwhile, the prime minister’s support rate has sagged to an all-time low.