The fiscal 2012 budget, at more than ¥90 trillion the biggest in history, was finally enacted by the Diet on Thursday as an earlier vote in the Lower House took priority after the opposition-controlled Upper House shot it down earlier in the day.
The Constitution gives priority to the Lower House when the two chambers are split over the budget, but getting this year’s spending plan through the Diet will provide little comfort to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who still faces numerous political difficulties.
The fate of a special bill to issue debt-covering bonds, which is needed to finance as much as 40 percent of the budget, is still hanging as the Upper House is capable of killing it at will. The Constitution gives superiority to the Lower House only in passing budgets, ratifying treaties and electing prime ministers.
The opposition camp is also ready to submit a censure motion against Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and threatening to boycott all Diet sessions as long as financial services minister Shosaburo Jimi stays in his post.
Jimi is a member of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), the junior partner in the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition government. But Kokumin Shinto President Shizuka Kamei announced the party will terminate its alliance with the DPJ after the Cabinet last Friday approved a bill to double the consumption tax to 10 percent in 2015.
Six out of the eight Kokumin Shinto members in the Diet, including Jimi, have said they will remain in the coalition, splitting the small party.
Later on Thursday, Kokumin Shinto Secretary General Mikio Shimoji told reporters that the party had decided to dismiss Kamei as party president and replace him with Jimi.
Meanwhile, the inexperienced Tanaka has been unable to smoothly handle questions from opposition lawmakers on military affairs, including the Patriot antiballistic missile defense system and issues involving U.S. military bases in Okinawa, in recent Diet sessions. The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the twomain opposition parties, plan to wait on the censure motion as Pyongyang plans to launch a long-range rocket over the Pacific Ocean sometime between next Thursday and April 16.
A censure motion would likely pass the Upper House and give the opposition camp another good excuse to boycott all sessions at the Diet. Many ministers have eventually been forced to step down in the past after a censure motion was passed.
The total budget is worth about ¥94 trillion, including ¥3.7 trillion to help the Tohoku region recover from last year’s earthquake and tsunami.
Noda needs support from the opposition to enact any government-sponsored bills, but the political deadlock is already affecting his administration.
For the first time in 14 years, an administration had to submit a ¥3.61 stopgap budget to cover the first six days of April, the beginning of the fiscal year. The DPJ planned to submit the 2012 budget on March 2 so it would be enacted before April, but was delayed because the opposition refused to cooperate.
Meanwhile, the DPJ and the administration were unable to reach an agreement Wednesday on when to start deliberations on the tax hike bill. Noda wants the discussions to begin as early as this month, but DPJ executives are cautious, considering the strong opposition against the tax hike within the party.
DPJ members discussed the tax hike bill for days before the Cabinet approved it last week, but many rank-and-file members remain opposed to the tax increase.