Amid fierce protest from the opposition camp, a Lower House committee began deliberating a controversial bill Tuesday that would reduce the number of Diet seats. The move is apparently an effort by the ruling camp to maintain the framework of the coalition by fulfilling a promise made earlier between the Liberal Democratic Party, which leads the coalition, and its junior partner, the Liberal Party. The bill, jointly submitted last week by the LDP, Liberal Party and New Komeito, aims to do away with 20 proportional representation seats in the Lower House. The coalition plans to have the bill pass the Lower House committee — and the plenary session, too, if possible — by Friday, when the Lower House is expected to kick off full-fledged deliberations on the fiscal 2000 budget. The Liberal Party has been urging the LDP to deal with the seat-reduction bill at the “beginning” of this Diet session by threatening to leave the coalition. Although the Liberal Party initially insisted on cutting 50 Lower House seats from proportional representation constituencies as part of lawmakers’ restructuring efforts, it compromised at 20 seats due to objections from New Komeito. But the opposition camp, angered by the way the ruling bloc has handled the matter, decided Tuesday to boycott all sessions in both Diet chambers, starting today. “The ruling camp is appropriating the Diet for their personal use,” said Tatsuo Kawabata, Diet affairs chief of largest opposition the Democratic Party of Japan. “They are not discussing the content (of the seat-cut issue) but just giving top priority to the (upkeep of the) coalition framework.” The opposition parties are insisting on having more time for discussion and urging the ruling camp not to stick to the time limit that the Liberal Party has imposed. When the committee opened Tuesday’s session, all the committee members from the opposition parties left their seats. “If (opposition lawmakers) have opinions, they should present them at the committee,” said Muneo Suzuki, a senior LDP member. “Meanwhile, we will simply continue our effort to pass the bill.”

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