The Upper House passed nonbinding censure motions Friday against Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Takeshi Maeda, delivering a double blow to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration.
The motions were submitted Wednesday by the Liberal Democratic Party and two smaller opposition parties, Your Party and Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party), over Tanaka’s inexperience on defense matters that the opposition alleges disqualifies him from holding his post, and Maeda’s alleged violation of the Public Offices Election Law.
The move backs Noda into a corner as he strives to start deliberations April 24 on his pet bill to double the 5 percent consumption tax rate by 2015, to cover snowballing social security costs. Though censure motions are not legally binding, the LDP says it will boycott Diet deliberations as long as the two ministers remain in Noda’s Cabinet. The opposition’s cooperation is critical for the DPJ to pass tax hike legislation, because it lacks a majority in the Upper House.
“The censure motions will definitely put Noda at a disadvantage,” said Yasuharu Ishizawa, a professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women’s College. “The passage of the tax hike bill will be tougher than ever.”
But Noda has rejected calls for the two ministers to step down. “I cannot deny (the land minister) was careless, but I want him to carry out his duties,” Noda told the Upper House Budget Committee on Wednesday.
Still, “Noda will have to reshuffle the Cabinet. It’s always been like that in Nagata-cho” to break a political deadlock, Ishizawa said.
Responding to Noda’s decision to keep the ministers, the LDP started rejecting parliamentary deliberations Thursday even though Tanaka and Maeda were not present in the committee sessions held that day.
“I cannot believe how (Noda) handled this. It’s obvious they lack the quality and ability to be ministers. It’s not a normal decision to let them fulfill their duties,” LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki said Thursday.
The LDP says it will not attend committee sessions unless the ministers are booted out.
Other opposition parties, however, are not following the LDP’s lead. New Komeito is urging the LDP to attend committee sessions not involving Tanaka and Maeda. as the party wants to start Diet discussions on the tax hike bill as soon as possible. Your Party also decided to attend committee sessions as long as the two Cabinet members aren’t participating.
Before the passage of the censure motions Friday, small opposition parties had argued with the LDP on when the votes should be held. The LDP wanted the motions passed in the Upper Houseon Thursday, but they had to postpone it by a day at the request of other opposition parties.
They pointed out that the ministers had a duty to attend an event Thursday hosted by Emperor Akihito.
In addition, New Komeito did not jointly submit the motions with its ally.
The tug of war between the DPJ and the LDP is only deepening public distrust and disappointment in the two major political parties, Ishizawa said.
The Noda team’s support rate has fallen to 28 percent, according to the latest poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun. Among the respondents, only 17 percent are siding with the DPJ and 16 percent for the LDP, while 56 percent said they aren’t supporting any party for now.
“The power game between the DPJ and LDP gives the public a bad impression. Such disappointment is becoming an impetus for many people to support a new political group, namely Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka),” Ishizawa said.
Meanwhile, both the defense and land ministers said they will “fulfill their duties.” The opposition censured Tanaka for lacking the qualities necessary for a defense minister. An amateur on defense and security, Tanaka has repeatedly erred in his use of jargon and place names during Diet debate sessions.