Aso wants 55-day legislative extension

by Masami Ito

Prime Minister Taro Aso said Monday he wants the current Diet session, which is set to close Wednesday, extended by 55 days until the end of July to secure enough time to pass bills related to the ¥14 trillion extra budget for fiscal 2009.

The ruling bloc-dominated Lower House is expected to vote on the extension Tuesday in a move that will likely put off the general election until at least late August.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito bloc got the extra budget, the largest ever, through the Diet last week. But the related bills, which must clear the Diet to carry out the enormous supplementary budget, are still being deliberated in both Diet chambers.

Ruling bloc executives, including Aso and New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota, met Monday afternoon and both parties agreed the lengthy extension was necessary.

LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters that Aso stressed the importance of passing not only the budget-related bills but also other key pending legislation, including the antipiracy bill to create a permanent law to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to protect ships of any nationality from pirate attacks and the controversial organ transplant law.

“Prime Minister Aso said there are many bills left that need to be firmly passed,” Hosoda said. “He also said the economic measures have entered a critical phase and vowed that the government will deal with them.”

The primary aim of the extension is to prepare for a situation in which the opposition camp, which controls the Upper House, puts up a fight and draws out the deliberations.

“There is no predicting what will happen with talks between the ruling and opposition parties,” Hosoda said.

With the extension, it is unlikely Aso will call a general election before the end of August or early September. But New Komeito Secretary General Kazuo Kitagawa said Aso could dissolve the Lower House during the extended session, depending on the situation.

“The dissolution of the house is entirely in the hands of the prime minister,” Kitagawa said. But “in a sense, if the pending bills are passed, Aso may decide to dissolve the house during the Diet session.”

Kenji Yamaoka, Diet affairs chief of the Democratic Party of Japan, questioned the need for such a long extension.

“We will agree to deliberations on bills and once we have finished thoroughly deliberating them, we will vote,” he said.

A 55-day extension, however, won’t be long enough for the ruling bloc to definitely hold a second vote in the Lower House for the budget-related bills. The Constitution stipulates that the Lower House can pass bills with a two-thirds majority in a second vote after the Upper House either rejects the bills or does not vote on them after 60 days.

“We did not set the extension on the assumption that we would hold a two-thirds second vote,” Kitagawa said. “Considering that there are budget-related bills and other important legislation still in the Lower House, we decided a certain amount of time was necessary to pass them.”