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In the absence of the opposition camp, the ruling triumvirate on Wednesday rammed a controversial bill aimed at reducing the number of seats in the Diet through a Lower House committee. The bill, which aims to do away with 20 proportional representation seats in the 500-member Lower House, is backed by the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party and New Komeito. The opposition parties boycotted the committee sessions in both Diet chambers to protest what they see as the coalition bulldozing the bill into law. On Wednesday night, the ruling bloc was preparing to convene a plenary session today to pass the bill through the full Diet. Attention is also focused on whether Lower House Speaker Soichiro Ito, who has called for high-level talks between the ruling and opposition camps to break the deadlock, will agree to ring a bell to convene the session as the ruling camp has requested. Opposition lawmakers are making loud calls for the early dissolution of the Lower House, encouraged by high disapproval ratings of the unpopular ruling coalition from a number of polls. If the Diet’s paralysis is prolonged, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi may have no choice but to dissolve the Diet to break the deadlock and avoid the risk of appearing dictatorial, observers said. But the political battle may also be a game of chicken. Some key opposition lawmakers said they also fear the public could begin criticizing them for hindering passage of the fiscal 2000 budget, which the Obuchi government has said is necessary to put the economy on a recovery track. Wednesday’s move was apparently an effort by the ruling camp to maintain coalition unity by fulfilling a promise made in December by the LDP, which heads the bloc, to its junior partner, the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has been threatening to leave the ruling coalition unless the LDP expedites passage of the seat-reduction bill at the “beginning” of the Diet session. “It was a reckless attempt by the ruling coalition,” said former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan. The ruling parties are aiming to have the seat-cut bill approved by the Lower House plenary session by Friday, the day the chamber is scheduled to kick off full-fledged deliberations on the fiscal 2000 budget. “We kept seeking ways to find a compromise with the opposition until the last minute. It is regrettable that they failed to show up,” Shin Sakurai, an LDP member who chairs the Lower House committee, told reporters after Wednesday’s session. Proponents of the bill claim that since private companies are making efforts to restructure, lawmakers should follow suit to gain the support of the public. Although the LDP initially insisted on cutting 50 Lower House proportional representation seats, it compromised at 20 seats after objections from New Komeito. The opposition camp, meanwhile, is insisting that more time be provided for discussion and that the ruling coalition withdraw the time limit imposed by the Liberal Party. “I have one favor to ask you. I want you all to entrust me with your fate,” DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama told members of his party earlier in the day, maintaining that he will continue to seek a resolution in the Lower House at the earliest opportunity. “We cannot tolerate a situation in which the Diet is about to die because of the arbitrary logic of the ruling coalition,” Hatoyama said.

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