DPJ to seek ‘substantial’ Diet extension

Party says time is needed for recovery bills; LDP vows fight

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The Democratic Party of Japan will seek to “substantially extend” the Diet session and pass key legislation dealing with the aftermath of the March 11 calamity, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada said Wednesday.

But the Liberal Democratic Party has said it opposes stretching the session beyond its scheduled June 22 end, saying Prime Minister Naoto Kan only wants to “prolong the life” of his leadership.

During a speech in Kawasaki at the national conference of the Japan Postal Group Union, Okada stressed that an extension wouldn’t automatically mean Kan would remain at the helm throughout the session.

Okada didn’t specify how long the session should be extended, but senior DPJ sources reportedly said the party is considering three months.

“Mr. Kan said he would step down once (dealing with the disaster) reaches a certain point,” Okada said. “Substantially extending the Diet and having Mr. Kan change places at some point do not contradict each other.”

Various important bills are still pending, including one to enable the issuance of deficit-covering government bonds necessary to fund a large part of the fiscal 2011 initial budget.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a Diet committee Wednesday he is ready to step down if that would clear the way for the passage of the deficit-covering bonds.

The government also submitted a bill to the Lower House on Tuesday to help Tokyo Electric Power Co. with the massive compensation it must pay to people and companies affected by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“It is unthinkable for lawmakers to close the Diet and take the summer off amid this major disaster,” Okada said. “We must extend the Diet session substantially and thoroughly deliberate necessary bills.”

Ever since Kan announced June 2 he intends to step down but without giving an actual time frame, lawmakers of the ruling and opposition parties have been maneuvering over the timing of the resignation.

The opposition force and some key DPJ lawmakers have been pushing Kan to step down by the end of this month.

The prime minister, on the other hand, has flip-flopped, initially hinting he may stay on until next year and then expressing his intention to resign in August after the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 is approved by the Diet.

On Tuesday, Kan ordered his Cabinet to draft a small second extra budget to be submitted to the Diet early next month on the assumption that the session will be extended.

Okada reportedly said the second extra budget will total about ¥2 trillion.

But whether it will get through the Diet is unclear because the LDP and New Komeito have expressed opposition to an extra budget being compiled by a prime minister who is expected to step down in the near future.