Kan proposes to slash Diet ranks

DPJ chief repeats goal of paring fat by year's end, vows to stay on

by Jun Hongo

Prime Minister Naoto Kan vowed Friday to prop up the economy by slashing wasteful spending, including reducing the ranks of lawmakers, while budgeting for projects that stimulate the job market and “bring back vigor.”

Kan hopes the ruling and opposition camps can agree to reduce the Lower and Upper house numbers by the end of this year, he said in a rare news conference held on the first day of the extraordinary Diet session.

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which Kan heads, made it an election campaign pledge to cut around 80 of the 480 Lower House seats and some 40 in the 242-seat Upper House. The DPJ will begin internal discussions next week.

“I will try to make policies in a manner open to the public,” he said.

Touching on proposed open debate to decide which projects deserve a share of the ¥1 trillion earmarked in the fiscal 2011 budget, Kan said the Cabinet’s main goal is to end 20 years of economic downturn.

Kan meanwhile said rectifying the nation’s fiscal balance “is an inevitable issue that needs to be addressed regardless of who or which party is in charge,” offering a response to criticism within his party that his campaign proposal before the July 11 Upper House election to hold debate on raising the consumption tax led to the DPJ-led bloc’s loss of its majority at the polls.

“I apologize that my remarks on the consumption tax were considered careless and had a huge impact,” Kan said.

He attended a DPJ Diet member meeting Thursday where he called on his colleagues to unite in the face of a tough Diet session. Some lawmakers demanded that he step down. Kan is the third prime minister to take office since last September.

Kan, who took power in early June after the sudden resignation of Yukio Hatoyama, repeated Friday that he will remain at his post and try to “manage the government properly for at least a few years.”

“I weighed many options,” the prime minister told the news conference, but said stepping down at this point will have a negative impact on the DPJ’s future.

On trying to press on with its legislative agenda after the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) coalition lost its Upper House majority, Kan said he will try to maintain a positive attitude and make overtures to the opposition camp.

“The situation calls for thorough debate,” Kan said, expressing hope that the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, will be able to find middle ground and avoid a political stalemate.

“Any rejection by the opposition camp will stop bills from becoming law. But I believe (the opposition is) willing to consider what is best for the public, and there will be a point where we can reach agreement,” Kan said.

Asked if dissolving the Lower House and holding a snap election is an option if Diet gridlock gets the upper hand, he said the thought “hasn’t crossed my mind.”