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Ruling bloc lawmakers on Thursday praised the expanded, bond-heavy fiscal 2000 budget compiled by Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s administration as Lower House Budget Committee deliberations got under way. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, convened “an alternative budget committee” at a Tokyo hotel and criticized the 85 trillion yen budget for shoveling a massive amount of funds into inefficient public works projects. The opposition camp was continuing its boycott of Diet proceedings, an action it began a week earlier to protest the coalition’s strong-arm tactics in pushing a bill to cut 20 Lower House seats. The bill was passed Wednesday. In their absence Thursday, the ruling bloc — The Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party and New Komeito — also began deliberating a package of pension reform bills at an Upper House committee. “The DPJ is playing with something like a mock Diet,” LDP policy chief Shizuka Kamei said. “I want them back in deliberations on important issues as soon as possible.” At the Budget Committee, Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa noted that although private consumption and equipment investment remain sluggish, economic indicators will show clear signs of recovery in September. But DPJ Vice President Takahiro Yokomichi countered Miyazawa’s opinion during the alternative budget committee hearing, pointing out that economic prospects remain bleak as the nation continues to suffer from record-high joblessness, mounting state and local government debts, and weak consumption. Seiji Maehara, the DPJ’s shadow minister of social infrastructure investment, pledged that his party would cut public works by 20 percent over five years and 30 percent over 10 years if the DPJ wins power through an election. Another contentious issue in the separate meetings was the Jan. 23 local plebiscite over a plan to build a dam on the Yoshino River in Tokushima Prefecture. An overwhelming majority of local residents in the city of Tokushima said “no” to the government project, but Construction Minister Masaaki Nakayama said in the Diet that the residents did not have enough technological knowledge to gauge the issue. He said he had told the opposing residents that voting on a matter decided by experts and engineers deviates from the concept of a plebiscite. Floods, if they occur, would affect more people outside the city of Tokushima, he said. But the DPJ’s Maehara argued that a plebiscite is a useful tool in reflecting public opinion on a certain issue because assembly members often do not necessarily represent the voice of the majority on a particular issue. The ruling and opposition camps are expected to continue their separate committee meetings in a bid to woo public support.

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