The Lower House on Monday entered a two-day, question-and-answer session on policy speeches delivered Friday as the opposition camp continued its boycott in the face of last week’s turmoil over a seat-reduction bill. It marked the first time in the past 33 years that a question-and-answer session on a prime minister’s policy speech was boycotted. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, convened what it called “an alternative Diet session,” at Parliamentary Museum, a hall next to the Diet, calling on Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to immediately dissolve the Lower House and call general elections. Speaking at the Diet session, Obuchi said it is regrettable that opposition parties did not attend the session despite the Diet’s duty to engage in active debate on state policies. Asked about his feelings toward dissolution of the chamber, Obuchi refused to give a direct answer and instead reiterated his belief that winning early Diet approval of the fiscal 2000 budget is a key condition for any economic recovery. “But,” he said, “when I feel we need to ask the public to judge (our political performance), I think I shouldn’t hesitate to carry out (the elections).” Concerning the controversial seat-reduction bill, which cleared the Lower House Thursday during a plenary session boycotted by the opposition, Obuchi said he strongly hopes the bill will be passed into law by the Upper House as early as possible. For their part, the opposition parties are preparing a national campaign to ask voters to pressure Obuchi into dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election. “Now our patience is being tested,” said DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama during his party’s alternative session. “It will be a difficult decision to place on it, but we want to ask the nation which side is right.” The opposition’s shadow Diet session was attended by 500 DPJ members, including 124 lawmakers, and was broadcast live on the Internet. Viewers joined a question and answer session with their comments sent by e-mail. Hatoyama has indicated his party may strike a compromise to return to the Diet if the ruling parties apologize to the opposition bloc, agree to dissolve the Lower House at an early date and continue deliberations on the seat-reduction bill in the Upper House. Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki, however, quickly brushed aside Hatoyama’ s proposal, saying it is based on the assumption that the ruling camp should bear sole responsibility for the Diet turmoil. Hiromu Nonaka, deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, told a press conference that the coalition will put the seat-reduction bill up to a final vote at an Upper House plenary session Wednesday. At Monday’s Diet session, Obuchi said he will welcome active debate on a basic education policy law, saying the nation is now facing a number of problems, including bullying and school phobia. He also showed strong determination to chair the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations next July in Okinawa, calling it “the most important diplomatic agenda” for the government this year.

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