LDP, New Komeito cooperating on key legislation

Opposition meeting Noda poll conditions

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

The Democratic Party of Japan agreed Tuesday with two opposition parties on amendments to the deficit-covering bonds bill, ensuring its passage Thursday — a key condition Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has set for dissolving the Lower House for an election.

The DPJ, Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito also agreed to discuss selecting members for a national council to reform the social security system. Creation of the council is another condition Noda has set before he dissolves the Lower House.

With passage of the debt bill now on track for Thursday, speculation was growing that Noda could dissolve the lower chamber as early as Nov. 22 and call the election for Dec. 16.

The amendments stipulate that the issuance of deficit-covering bonds will be permitted until fiscal 2015. The measure effectively prevents opposition parties from holding the bond bill, which is separate from the annual budget bill, hostage as a means to force an election.

If the bond bill isn’t passed soon, the government will run out of money by the end of the month. The proposed legislation covers about 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget. The bill was supposed to have been passed by last March, but the DPJ was unable to gain support from the opposition camp, which controls the Upper House.

“We were able to agree (on the amendments) because we have experience being both the ruling and opposition parties. I think we could respond to public expectations for us to carry political decisions forward,” said DPJ policy chief Goshi Hosono, who did the negotiating with the LDP and New Komeito.

Although Noda is apparently leaning toward dissolving the Lower House before the end of December, based on his August pledge to the LDP and New Komeito to dissolve the chamber “soon” to gain their support on the bill to double the consumption tax and on social security reform legislation, many DPJ members fear an early election amid their party’s dismal public support rate.

DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi told reporters Monday that dissolving the Lower House this year is not realistic because the schedule is too tight to accommodate passing the bond bill and another bill to partially rectify the vote-value disparity in the Lower House and trim some of the chamber’s seats, as well as launch the national council for social security reform — Noda’s self-imposed goals before he calls an election.

“Considering various issues, including this year’s extra budget, economic measures and the Senkaku Islands dispute, I don’t think we should be allowed to create a political vacuum,” Koshiishi said.

Michihiko Kano, former farm minister, urged Koshiishi on Tuesday to avoid an early election. “The DPJ is now in a crisis. We should be united to carry out policies” such as reducing the number of Lower House seats, Kano said after a meeting with Koshiishi.

The DPJ proposal to slash 40 seats from the 480-member Lower House is not expected to be supported by opposition parties.

Koshiishi said Monday the DPJ wants to both correct the vote-value disparity and eliminate 40 Lower House seats. The Supreme Court ruled last year the vote-value disparity of up to 2.3 in the 2009 election was in a “state of unconstitutionality.”