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Opposition gesture kills four bills

Diet closes on nonbinding Abe censure

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The Diet’s 150-day regular session ended in turmoil Wednesday as the opposition passed a non-binding censure motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and scrapped four government-sponsored bills in the process.

Unlike the Lower House, no-confidence motions filed in the upper chamber carry no legal weight. But since the opposition parties usually boycott all remaining Diet sessions when one is passed, any pending bills are automatically scrapped.

The opposition’s aggressive move on the session’s last day was intended as a show of force before the critical Upper House election on July 21, which could see the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition take full control of the legislature.

The motion was submitted Tuesday by Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), the Social Democratic Party and Green Wind to censure Abe for not attending the Upper House Budget Committee meetings Monday and Tuesday.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force and holder of the most Upper House seats, for now, also supported the motion.

It is only the fourth time a censure motion against a prime minister has been passed in the Upper House, reflecting the fleeting existence of a two-party system.

“I find it hard to understand the motion,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, recalling that Abe had attended many Diet sessions at the request of opposition parties.

The four bills that were killed include one to set up a state-backed corporation allowing regional power companies to supply electricity to one other.

The legislation was considered the first step toward liberalizing the country’s power market, which is essentially controlled by regional monopolies.

The other three bills included one to impose stricter punishment on illegal welfare recipients, one to oblige municipalities to offer consultation services to those in poverty, and one allowing private security guards on Japanese tankers to be armed with rifles.

The DPJ backed all four bills in the Lower House, but eventually agreed to scrap them in the Upper House by supporting the censure motion against Abe and boycotting any of the remaining sessions.

Initially, the DPJ proposed that a vote on the four bills be held before calling for a separate session to vote on the censure motion. But the LDP-led ruling camp rejected the idea and the session to vote on the censure motion was held first.

In a last-minute about-face, the DPJ thus joined the other opposition parties on the censure motion to maintain a semblance of opposition unity against the ruling camp.

Masashi Waki, Diet affairs chief of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, criticized the DPJ’s inconsistency.

“The DPJ wanted to be on the same side of the other opposition parties but didn’t want to kill the bills at the same time,” he said. “But once a censure motion is submitted, it should be dealt with first, according to precedents in the Diet.”

Before the vote on Abe’s censure motion was held, an LDP-sponsored no-confidence motion against Upper House President Kenji Hirata was successfully voted down by the opposition.