Upper House hits Fukuda with censure

Nonbinding motion comes late, not seen prompting poll

by Setsuko Kamiya and Masami Ito

The opposition-controlled Upper House passed an unprecedented, but nonbinding, censure motion Wednesday against Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, hoping to marshal public discontent with his stagnant administration into calls for a snap election.

But Fukuda and his Cabinet are set to ignore the long-threatened motion, and it is unlikely the opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, will force him to dissolve the Lower House.

“I listened carefully to (the reasons given by the opposition parties for submitting the censure motion) and seriously take to heart each” point, Fukuda told reporters Wednesday evening, while dismissing in the same breath any chance of dissolving the Lower House and calling for an election in the near future.

Fukuda said he and the ruling bloc would continue to seek cooperation and communication with the opposition camp despite the censure motion.

But speaking separately, DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa wouldn’t let the matter drop.

“Fukuda and his government are gravely responsible to the public, yet they barely acknowledge that fact or make any effort to change politics,” Ozawa said. “Nor do they have the ability to do so.”

In making his party’s case for a swift election, he challenged the legitimacy of the Fukuda Cabinet. “Such a government does not benefit the people,” Ozawa said. “We represent the voices of the public and we say Fukuda is not suitable for the job.”

The opposition camp submitted the censure motion, which focuses criticism on Fukuda’s support of the contentious new health insurance program, as the Diet session draws to its mid-June close,

The program, introduced in April, has been harshly criticized for throwing a heavier financial burden on the elderly for their health care.

The opposition-sponsored bill to scrap the program cleared the upper chamber last week and has been sent to the Lower House, which the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc controls.

It is the first time under the Constitution that a prime minister has been dealt a censure motion by the Upper House.

In response, the ruling coalition is set to pass a vote of confidence in Fukuda in the Lower House on Thursday to throw its full support behind him and his Cabinet.

Ozawa blasted the confidence vote as a “makeshift tactic” that will never win over the public and said the ruling bloc should call a poll now.

“The LDP shouldn’t be afraid of holding an election,” Ozawa said. “It is the ruling party, so it should feel confident.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura criticized the censure as “nothing more than a political performance.”

After adopting the motion Wednesday afternoon, the DPJ and other opposition parties said they will refuse to attend the Diet’s remaining deliberations.

Political analysts and some opposition lawmakers questioned the timing of the motion — which came toward the end of the Diet session after activity had quieted down.

The battle between the DPJ and LDP peaked in April and May over the gasoline surcharge and road construction issues. The DPJ, which had been considering submitting the censure motion at that time, decided against it and said it would openly fight the ruling bloc in the Diet.

Machimura said Wednesday the DPJ avoided submitting the motion earlier because it could have paralyzed the Diet until the end of the session, leaving the top opposition party accountable and open to public criticism.