The regular 150-day Diet session that convenes today will test the effectiveness of the newly launched coalition between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party in shaping the nation’s politics.
The LDP-Liberal alliance boasts a powerful combined force of 304 in the 500-seat Lower House, which holds precedence over the Upper House in budgetary matters.
However, it will still be 10 seats shy of a majority in the 252-seat Upper House, and the alliance will need support from outside the ruling camp to gain smooth Diet passage of a number of bills.
The LDP will try everything to woo New Komeito, the second-largest opposition party, but New Komeito, backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, is stepping up its anti-LDP stance in order to appeal to voters in a nationwide series of local elections in April.
The local elections will also serve as the first major test of voter judgment on the LDP-Liberal coalition.
Meanwhile, the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, apparently feeling betrayed by the LDP-Liberal alliance, is expected to intensify its campaign to topple the Obuchi administration.
DPJ head Naoto Kan has criticized the coalition as a “marriage of convenience” and called on Obuchi to dissolve the Lower House for a general election “to receive the judgment of voters.”
Kan believes that if the economy still shows no sign of recovery by around May, public criticism of the Obuchi administration will become stronger, providing the DPJ with an opportunity to corner the government.
However, the DPJ itself is expected to face difficulties in pulling opposition forces together — as it successfully did right after the Upper House election last year — due to policy differences not only with other opposition forces but also within its own ranks, particularly over sensitive defense-related issues.
The 150-day session, to run through June 17, will deal with such key legislation as the government’s fiscal 1999 budget and related bills, as well as the controversial bills to cover the revised Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines.
On the table will be a proposal to cut the number of Lower House seats by 50 by trimming those chosen through proportional representation. New Komeito strongly opposes such a cut because many of its Diet members were elected under the proportional representation system. In the current system, 300 of the 500 members of the lower chamber are elected from single-seat constituencies, and the remainder are chosen through proportional representation.