Diet takes up bond bill as LDP caves in

by Natsuko Fukue and Masami Ito

Staff Writers

After months of hardball between the ruling and opposition blocs, Diet deliberations on the crucial bond-issuance bill kicked off Thursday, paving the way for its passage.

The move came a day after the Liberal Democratic Party caved in, apparently judging it would anger the public if it continued to oppose acting on the bill, which is needed to fund about 40 percent of this year’s budget.

The bill is currently the priority of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration, but with its passage now almost assured, he has been pushed one step closer to dissolving the Lower House for a snap election.

Noda promised leaders of the LDP and New Komeito in August that he would dissolve the Lower House “soon” after the bond bill is passed and progress is made on lessening the vote-value disparity and addressing social security reform.

During Thursday’s plenary session, Noda stressed that financial resources for the fiscal 2012 budget will run out by month’s end without the legislation.

“No matter which party is in power, nobody can manage national finances without the bond bill,” he said.

When an LDP member demanded that Noda immediately dissolve the Lower House, he replied that the conditions he has set must first be met.

“I will make my own decision firmly” when these issues are resolved, he said.

As a condition for starting the deliberations, the LDP had demanded that the Democratic Party of Japan agree to hold a session of the Lower House Budget Committee first, to grill the prime minister.

DPJ Diet Affairs Chief Kazunori Yamanoi turned down the request Wednesday and the largest opposition party gave in, citing the bill’s impact on the finances of prefectural governments and people’s livelihoods. The bill is expected to clear the Lower House next Tuesday.

While Noda may be breathing a sigh of relief, his Cabinet lineup continues to cause him headaches.

Last month, Keishu Tanaka had to resign as justice minister over “health problems” after admitting to past ties with a major yakuza syndicate and for accepting illegal donations from a company run by a foreign national. His resignation came only three weeks after Noda had reshuffled the Cabinet.

And now the opposition force is demanding that education minister Makiko Tanaka be firedover the uproar she caused by first saying three planned universities should not be built and then reversing course Wednesday and approving their creation.

Last week, Tanaka said she was overriding the recommendation of an advisory panel and would not approve the schools in Akita, Hokkaido and Aichi prefectures, arguing that Japan already has too many universities.

“After receiving harsh criticism from the public and from the media, Minister Tanaka began to flip-flop . . . and I must say that she considerably lacks suitability as a minister,” charged New Komeito lawmaker Yuzuru Takeuchi during Thursday’s Lower House plenary session. What Tanaka did “caused a lot of damage to the schools, which had followed the rules, and the students who were getting ready to apply.”

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Tanaka doesn’t need to step down.