Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to face conflict in the Diet session that kicked off Tuesday as opposition parties prepared to grill him over his Cabinet appointments, most notably about short-term trade minister Yoshio Hachiro, who stepped down after making jokes about the Fukushima nuclear crisis that has forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.
“It is highly regrettable that recently a Cabinet minister resigned following inappropriate statements lacking compassion for disaster victims,” Noda said during his first policy speech, which kicked off the special four-day session.
“I would like to take this opportunity to pledge once again that the Cabinet redouble its concerted efforts to bring the nuclear accident to a conclusion.”
In the divided Diet, where the opposition camp controls the Upper House, the government will require the cooperation of rival parties to pass legislation and implement such measures.
Noda repeatedly reached out to opposition parties, calling on them to work with his administration to rebuild the country after March’s natural and nuclear disasters.
“The essence of parliamentary democracy lies in consensus-building based on carefully wrought dialogue and understanding,” he said. “Now is an apt and opportune moment to reflect on the rightful nature of the legislative branch, namely the aim of reaching consensus through discussion.”
The prime minister said he will prioritize postdisaster reconstruction measures but added that his government will map out a strategy to revive the stagnant economy by year’s end.
“Along with overcoming the ‘two crises’ of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the world economic crisis, we must invest in Japan’s future to be a country filled with promise,” Noda said.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, Noda said the nation should reduce relying on nuclear energy “as much as possible.” But he also said the government will begin to reactivate reactors currently halted for inspections after they pass mandatory stress tests.
One of the Noda Cabinet’s key tasks is to draft a third extra budget for fiscal 2011 to finance reconstruction measures in the devastated Tohoku region. A bill is expected to be submitted to the Diet as early as mid-October.
While promising to make efforts to raise funds by cutting expenditure and selling off government assets, Noda stressed that he will consider provisionally hiking taxes. He said the government will assess the current economic situation and consider various plans to raise taxes but didn’t elaborate further or specify which taxes might be targeted.
“The basic principle regarding financial resources for recovery and reconstruction is that the burden of these resources should not be passed onto the next generation, but instead should be shared together by all generations living here in the present,” Noda said.
His first policy speech was dominated by measures to rebuild Tohoku and deal with the global economic downturn, and he touched only briefly on foreign policy issues.
Regarding Japan-U.S. relations, Noda said the U.S. military’s relief efforts and humanitarian aid during Operation Tomodachi, launched after the March 11 calamities, reconfirmed and symbolized the strength and depth of bilateral ties.
As for relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a matter that has caused friction between Washington and Tokyo, Noda expressed his intention to adhere to a 2006 bilateral agreement that was reconfirmed by the DPJ-led government last year and move the facility to another part of Okinawa despite local opposition.