Noda snubs LDP call to set dissolution date

Vague promise good enough to keep Tanigaki on board for tax bill

by Masami Ito and Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writers

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda managed Wednesday to avoid being slapped with a double-punch no confidence vote and censure motion by the Liberal Democratic Party by promising to call for a snap election “soon.”

Noda met with LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki and New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi in the evening, and they agreed to cooperate, once again, to enact the contentious consumption tax hike bill promptly. In a divided Diet where the opposition controls the Upper House, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan needs the support of the LDP and New Komeito to pass the bills.

In Wednesday’s deal, Tanigaki gave up trying to force Noda to set a date for the dissolution of the Lower House. The LDP earlier in the day appeared ready to submit a no confidence motion in the lower chamber and a censure motion in the Upper House.

“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude for their decision,” Noda said after the three-party talks.

But Noda’s vague vow to hold an election in the near future leaves room for interpretation and it is not clear when he would actually call it.

The Diet session ends next month, when the DPJ will also hold a presidential election that Noda hopes to again win and stay in office.

After the trilateral meeting, Tanigaki stressed that he expected a general election to be called in the near future.

“I take the word ‘soon’ seriously. . . . I believe (in Noda), and I think he will definitely take action that is worthy of my trust,” Tanigaki said, also without apparently indicating a time frame.

The right to dissolve the Lower House is solely in the hands of the prime minister. But various media polls suggest many DPJ lawmakers would lose if an election were held in the coming weeks, and the DPJ has been desperate to stop Noda from giving in to the LDP, whose own election prospects are an open question.

During an internal party meeting Wednesday afternoon, Noda reassured his colleagues that he would not set a clear date for the Lower House dissolution.

“I cannot specify when the Lower House will be dissolved,” Noda said to cheers and applause.

Earlier in the day, DPJ Diet affairs chief Koriki Jojima told his LDP and New Komeito counterparts that Noda would publicly vow to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election “in the near future after (the tax-related bills) are passed” by the Diet.

He told reporters this was the “very limit” of what the prime minister could promise the LDP.

Fumio Kishida, the LDP’s Diet affairs chief, said the wording was too vague and thus unacceptable to his party, which wants the Lower House dissolved as soon as possible.

However, New Komeito, the LDP’s opposition partner, is concerned about an apparent contradiction in the LDP’s Diet maneuvering, as the LDP’s stance on the consumption tax hike is virtually identical to Noda’s plan.

The LDP and New Komeito have already expressed their support for the tax reform bills, voting in favor of them in the Lower House in June.