LDP irked but dare it veto key postdisaster bills?

DPJ tacks on 70 days to avert Diet recess

by Masami Ito and Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writers

The Diet session was extended by 70 days Wednesday, giving Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Democratic Party of Japan some breathing room as they try to enact several key bills by the end of August.

But the two main opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, voted against the extension; Kan and the DPJ are sure to have a difficult time during deliberations in the days ahead.

The DPJ repeatedly flip-flopped over the length of the extension, from four months to 50 days to 70 days, and the timing of Kan’s resignation continues to remain unclear, triggering criticism from the LDP and New Komeito.

LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara said his party was opposed to extending the session unless Kan steps down.

“There hasn’t been enough explanation on why (the DPJ) changed the length . . . to 70 days even though the content of what we are going to discuss (during the extension) remains the same,” Ishihara said, urging the DPJ to clarify to the opposition camp if this means Kan will step down during this time and when this will happen.

To ensure relatively smooth sailing in the extended session, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada was initially eager to sign a trilateral agreement with the LDP and New Komeito over the enactment of several key bills in exchange for Kan’s exit and a 50-day extension. There will be no deal now, however, after the DPJ decided on the 70-day extension.

Nevertheless, Okada pursued a new deal with the opposition, offering that the third extra budget for this fiscal year will be submitted under “a new regime,” hinting at the possibility of a new prime minister at that point.

But Kan has repeatedly refused to clarify when he intends to resign, triggering strong distrust among the LDP and New Komeito.

“I think the meaning is clear,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters, suggesting a new prime minister would handle the third supplementary budget.

Okada also stressed that the length of the extension doesn’t reflect the timing of Kan’s exit.

“The term of the Diet and the changing of the prime minister are two different things,” he said.

The DPJ and the administration will aim to pass the bill to issue deficit-covering bonds, a move necessary to fund the initial fiscal 2011 budget and a second supplementary budget.

Kan has also expressed his strong desire to enact a bill to promote renewable energy sources via a mechanism known as a feed-in-tariff system.

Political commentator Harumi Arima said it is unlikely that the opposition camp, including the LDP, will continue refusing to cooperate on key legislation to the point where local governments and the public would be affected.

“The LDP will definitely protest to pressure Kan. But the party also doesn’t want to be held responsible for preventing those key (disaster relief) bills from clearing the Diet,” he said. “Kan may not be very popular, but the LDP hasn’t particularly gained great support from the public either” since becoming an opposition party.

Some in the LDP actually sided with the ruling camp, saying focus should be on reconstruction from the disaster, not partisan politics and splitting hairs over how long the session should be extended.