With the Sept. 8 end of the current Diet session nearing, political players in Nagata-cho engaged in a heated tit-for-tat battle Wednesday as the opposition-controlled Upper House passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to try to push him into dissolving the Lower House.
But Noda is expected to ignore the nonbinding motion, not dissolve the chamber, and instead focus on getting re-elected president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in the Sept. 21 DPJ leadership poll.
With the passage of the censure motion, the opposition parties plan to boycott further Diet deliberations in the Upper House and thereby block all remaining government-sponsored legislation from enactment.
The DPJ has been struggling to pass bills in the divided Diet during a session that was extended by 79 days. Out of 83 government-sponsored bills submitted, only 51 were passed.
With the help of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, Noda was able to enact his signature initiative — the legislation to double the 5 percent consumption tax by October 2015.
But several key bills have been left dangling, including the deficit-covering bond bill necessary to execute a large portion of the fiscal 2012 budget. Finance Minister Jun Azumi has warned that revenue sources could dry up in October if the bill isn’t passed.
Deliberations on the deficit-covering bond bill and other proposed legislation are expected to continue in the extraordinary session that opens this fall.
“We are still asking (for cooperation from the opposition parties) to enact the deficit-covering bond bill, but we have started to look into what measures would be necessary if it were not to be approved during the current Diet session,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference Wednesday morning.
The LDP and New Komeito went ahead with their censure bid against Noda on Tuesday, after seven other opposition parties submitted a similar motion against Noda earlier in August to protest the agreement between the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito on the tax hike.
The LDP-led opposition camp spent Wednesday trying to unify their censure bids without contradicting one another.
In the end, however, New Komeito lawmakers decided to abstain from voting and the LDP backed the bid submitted by the seven parties, which had criticized the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito for backing the tax hike.
“We are not here to discussthe reason why the motion was submitted, we are here to deliberate on the bid itself. It is a bit annoying but it is more important to firmly hold the vote,” said Masashi Waki, the LDP Diet affairs chief of the upper caucus.
After abstaining from voting, New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told reporters his party was ultimately in agreement with the censure motion but could not support it because it rejected the tax hike.
“I think that if the reason (for the submission) is different, there are times when we have to take different action. . . . New Komeito decided it was necessary to be logical and consistent with the public,” Yamaguchi said.
Critics have expressed strong displeasure over the political bickering, saying it has finally reached a dead end.
“It is too ridiculous to comment on. There is no way out of this. The DPJ doesn’t want to have an election and both the DPJ and the LDP-New Komeito side are refusing to give in to each other,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University.
The DPJ, suffering from low public support, is trying to delay an election as long as possible, even to the end of the current Lower House term next summer. LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki, on the other hand, has been vocal about his intent to drive Noda into dissolving the Lower House before the end of the current Diet session.
In a desperate attempt to enact the contentious tax hike bill and related legislation, Noda promised Tanigaki that he would hold an election “soon,” but without specifying the date. Speculation spread throughout Nagata-cho that a poll would be held this fall, most likely in November.
But DPJ lawmakers now say the LDP broke its promise by submitting the censure motion.
“I think Prime Minister Noda’s promise to hold an election soon will go back to square one. I find (the LDP and New Komeito’s) action extremely difficult to understand,” DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara said earlier this week.
Both Noda and Tanigaki are up for re-election as party chiefs in September. While most political insiders and observers expect Noda to be re-elected head of the DPJ, Tanigaki could be ousted if he fails to get Noda to dissolve the lower chamber.
Nihon University’s Iwai, however, pointed out that the decision to hold a Lower House general election is ultimately in the hands of the prime minister regardless of what the opposition camp demands.
“Noda can also choose not to hold an election. That is the prime minister’s prerogative — to be able to hold out against the opposition parties’ demands for an election,” Iwai said. “Usually, politicians can find a way out through, but this time, the ruling and opposition parties are caught in political deadlock with their fists raised in the air.”