DPJ, Kan in hot seat as Diet opens

Party keeps Upper House helm; LDP flexes muscle

by Alex Martin

The first extraordinary Diet session under the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan convened Friday, with the opposition looking to pressure the ruling coalition following the recent loss of its Upper House majority.

The Diet session will last through Aug. 6, with Kan to participate in his first round of debates since he took over the government’s top spot following the early-June resignation of Yukio Hatoyama. The abbreviated session is mainly for picking the Upper House chief and heads of standing committees.

In a morning news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters the ruling Democratic Party of Japan should not be daunted despite the recent setback in the Upper House election.

“We’d like to continue to send the public constructive and creative messages about revitalizing our nation,” he said.

But facing a divided Diet, the DPJ will encounter difficulty passing bills without the cooperation of the opposition camp. And Kan will also have to deal with voices from within his party calling for him to resign over the Upper House result, as he gears up to keep his post in September’s DPJ presidential race.

During an Upper House plenary session, DPJ lawmaker Takeo Nishioka was voted in as new president of the chamber, while the Liberal Democratic Party’s Hidehisa Otsuji was elected vice president.

But reflecting the DPJ’s loss of its hold of the House of Councilors, the post of chairman of the Upper House Committee on Rules and Administration, which is very influential in deciding the chamber’s deliberation schedules, was handed over to LDP lawmaker Seiji Suzuki, increasing the opposition party’s presence in the chamber.

The vote count also highlighted the dire situation the DPJ faces in the Upper House, for while the LDP’s Otsuji received 235 of the 240 votes cast for vice president, the DPJ’s Nishioka received only 139 of the 239 votes to be elected president.

Eighty-eight of the votes cast were blank, while 11 votes were cast for Your Party candidate Katsuhiko Eguchi, and Otsuji garnered a single vote.

During the July 11 election, the DPJ won only 44 seats out of the 121 seats that were up for grabs, while the LDP increased its share to 51 seats. Although the DPJ still remains the largest party in the Upper House with 110 seats, the opposition camp now holds a combined majority.

But speaking to reporters Friday, LDP Lower House member Shinjiro Koizumi said there was no time for the LDP to bask in its surprise recovery after its landslide defeat in last summer’s general election.

“We need to work our utmost, and consider our victory as the last chance the public gave us,” he said, stressing the need for party reform.

Prime Minister Kan’s debates with the opposition are expected to start next week. Debates in the Lower House are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, and in the upper chamber Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday also marked the Diet debut of several big-name rookie lawmakers who won seats at the recent poll.

Judo star and Olympic gold medalist Ryoko Tani was greeted by a crowd of reporters upon her arrival at the Diet. Tani was handpicked by money scandal-tainted DPJ kingpin Ichiro Ozawa.

Actress Junko Mihara, who ran as an LDP candidate, also made her first appearance at the Diet.