Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Cabinet survived a no-confidence vote Thursday, bringing him one step closer to achieving his goal of doubling the consumption tax.
Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan-Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) ruling bloc prevailed in the vote on the no-confidence motion, which was submitted by six small opposition parties, including Your Party and Kokumin no Seikatsuga Daiichi (People’s Life First), which is led by Ichiro Ozawa, who quit the DPJ last month with his allies to oppose the sales tax hike.
The final vote count was 86 in favor of the motion and 246 against.
The opposition parties were trying to sink Noda’s unpopular tax hike and other reform bills, which have the support of the Liberal Democratic Party, the main opposition force, and its smaller ally, New Komeito, before Friday’s final vote on the bills in the Upper House.
The LDP and New Komeito abstained from voting on the no-confidence motion, but some LDP members, including ex-Chief Cabinet Secretaries Hidenao Nakagawa and Yasuhisa Shiozaki attended the plenary session and backed the no-confidence motion.
Most of the attention has been focused on tax hike-opposing rebels in the DPJ, including former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who skipped Thursday’s no-confidence vote.
“It would be pointless to support it this time — it is going to be voted down anyway,” a lawmaker close to Hatoyama said on condition of anonymity. The tax-hike dissenters are likely to approach the September DJP presidential election by choosing their own candidate and challenging Noda head-on.
DPJ lawmaker Koki Kobayashi, however, declared Wednesday that he plans to leave the ruling party and support the opposition.
“I think it is time for me to say goodbye to the DPJ. I am against the tax hike and if I have the chance to take action in the Diet, I will,” Kobayashi said.
On Thursday, Kobayashi and fellow member Toshiaki Koizumi submitted their resignations before the vote and later supported the no-confidence bid.
While the nation marked the 67th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week, with Noda present at both events, Nagata-cho has spent the past few days focusing on political horse-trading.
LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki went for Noda’s jugular Monday, threatening to submit a no-confidence motion if he refused to set a date for dissolving the Lower House to call a snap election. He also was ready to scrap a trilateral agreement among the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito on the tax and social security reform bills.
But doubling the consumption tax to 10 percent was originally the LDP’s idea, and the maneuver would likely have been criticized as more of the same tit-for-tat power games the Diet has been playing over the past 14 months as the nation struggles to recover from its worst calamity since the war.
In the end, Noda met with Tanigaki and New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi on Wednesday evening and promised to dissolve the Lower House “soon” in exchange for their cooperation, once again, to pass the tax and social security bills.
Speculation over the meaning of “soon,” however, has left lawmakers guessing when the next election will be held. Some say it could happen before the Diet session closes Sept. 8; others assume it will be held in October or November.
At a briefing Thursday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura stressed that it was up to Noda to decide when to dissolve the lower chamber.
“I believe there are various ways people took (the word “soon”), but the right to dissolve the Lower House is solely in the prime minister’s hands and it isn’t appropriate for others to make assumptions,” Fujimura said.
People’s Life First Secretary General Shozo Azuma condemned the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito for refusing to back down on the tax hike and for creating more political chaos this week.
“More than 60 percent of the public are against enacting the tax hike bill during the Diet session, but who is speaking out on their behalf?” Azuma asked during an internal meeting Thursday. “The people’s voices are not being reflected, and the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito . . . are just playing politics and ignoring the will of the public.”