During the extra Diet session convening today, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori hopes to fix the damage done to his ruling bloc by recent money scandals and boost the fragile economic recovery with a stimulus package worth more than 10 trillion yen, including 4 trillion yen in new spending.
Mori’s performance during the 72-day session through early December may sway the destiny of his administration, whose support rating in media surveys has been moving up but at a sluggish pace.
There is lingering speculation that the Liberal Democratic Party, which he heads, and its allies will not be able to survive next summer’s Upper House election as long as the unpopular Mori remains at the ruling camp’s helm.
Following Mori’s policy speech today, the LDP-led alliance plans to kick off deliberations by submitting a bill aimed at banning lawmakers from receiving financial benefits, including otherwise legitimate donations, in return for providing political favors.
The proposed bill has been drafted in an effort to remove the stigma left by a bribery scandal involving former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao. He was arrested in July for allegedly receiving 30 million yen for favoring a construction firm in a ministry public works bidding.
The opposition camp, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, is critical of the proposed bill, saying its wording provides loopholes and would be powerless to stop acts of corruption. The opposition parties plan to jointly submit an alternative bill featuring tougher provisions against such wrongdoing.
The LDP meanwhile is aiming to clear up another mess by revising the current electoral system for the House of Councilors.
Last month, then Financial Reconstruction Commission chief Kimitaka Kuze, an LDP Upper House member, was forced to resign after it was revealed that he was having condominium builder Daikyo Inc. shoulder 100 million yen in LDP membership fees for his new party recruits.
Kuze admitted upon his resignation that he had to recruit tens of thousands of new party members to move up on the LDP’s proportional representation candidate roster.
Under the current Upper House proportional representation system, voters cast their ballots for political parties, and Diet seats are divided among the parties in proportion to the votes won.
The seats are then allocated to members of the parties based on their rank on the roster. The LDP requires its candidates to recruit at least 20,000 new party members to have their names put on the roster. The more new recruits they secure, the higher their rank on the candidate list, and, thus, the bigger the chances of their election.
The practice has been widely criticized as breeding dubious ties between lawmakers and the business sector, as Kuze’s case exemplified, because in order to secure so many new recruits the candidates must seek the help of companies or industry groups.
Under the ruling coalition’s proposal, the candidates on a party’s proportional representation roster will not be ranked. People will vote either for an individual candidate or a political party, the proposal says, and the seats obtained by a party based on proportional representation will be allocated to the candidates in the order of the number of votes they received.
However, the opposition camp is opposed to the proposal, saying it will only force each of the candidates to engage in a fierce, nationwide campaign, requiring them to spend more money and energy to get elected.
As for electoral reform, Mori and his aides are also seeking Diet approval of a long-pending proposal to give voting rights in local elections to non-Japanese permanent residents, many of whom are Korean.
However, it is not yet clear whether the proposed legislation can be put to a vote during the upcoming session, as many conservative LDP lawmakers remain strongly opposed.
When top executives of the coalition parties visited Seoul on Monday, South Korean President Kim Dae Jung expressed hope for the enactment of the legislation by the end of the year. But the coalition leaders told Kim it may take time for the issue to be resolved.
Other legislative bills coming up on the Diet agenda will include a bill to revise the Police Law in an effort to beef up public supervision of the force. Amid a series of heinous crimes committed by minors, the ruling alliance is also discussing an amendment to the Juvenile Law to lower the minimum age for criminal liability to 14 from 16.
Meanwhile, the Mori Cabinet will submit a supplementary budget, including a fresh government expenditure of nearly 4 trillion yen, to finance a new stimulus package to keep up the momentum of the economic recovery.
Mori, who is betting the fate of his administration on an “IT revolution,” also hopes to see a package of information technology promotion bills passed during this session.
Economic Planning Agency chief Taichi Sakaiya is urging the government to disburse 300 billion yen as part of the supplementary budget plan to distribute “IT vouchers” to the public. The voucher will give a 50 percent discount to adults who wish to take classes on the Internet and e-mail to be held at local town halls, according to the plan.
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