The opposition parties launched a last-minute move Thursday to block final Upper House votes on a government-sponsored bill to dispatch Self-Defense Forces to Iraq, by submitting a series of censure motions against Cabinet ministers.

While the first motion, presented against Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, was voted down by the ruling coalition in an Upper House plenary session in the evening, the opposition camp quickly submitted another motion against Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba.

When a censure motion is submitted against a Cabinet minister, all deliberations must be stopped and a vote on the motion should be held in a plenary session of the chamber in which it was presented.

The ruling bloc initially planned to hold an Upper House committee vote on the SDF dispatch bill Thursday and have the bill enacted by the full Upper House on Friday.

Proceedings on the censure motion stalled what was expected to be final debate on the bill. The committee vote was expected to be delayed to Friday.

The ruling camp is still confident it can have the bill enacted before the Diet session closes Monday.

But the four opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party — said they were determined to scrap the bill by resisting the vote on the legislation until the session ends.

DPJ officials said they were ready to submit similar motions against other ministers, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, to the Upper House. They are also considering submitting to the Lower House a no-confidence motion against the entire Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The ruling bloc of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and New Conservative Party, which hold a solid majority in both chambers of the Diet, were meanwhile determined to vote down all motions even if the plenary voting sessions continue overnight.

The SDF dispatch bill is one of the key legislative goals of Koizumi during the current Diet session, which has already been extended by 40 days to work on the bill.

Some lawmakers have speculated that the prime minister could dissolve the House of Representatives to break a stalemate should the ruling bloc fail to enact the bill.

However, many others doubted the seriousness of opposition forces in their bid to delay the Diet votes because it is believed the opposition is not ready for a general election. They said the opposition parties were merely trying to demonstrate their political stance during the final stage of the legislative session, and are not seriously trying to scrap the bill and risk a snap general election.

“After all, they are only playing for time, aren’t they?” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda asked at a news conference Thursday.

The envisioned law would allow Japan to dispatch SDF troops to Iraq to assist in reconstruction work. The DPJ is opposed to sending SDF personnel due to concerns about the unstable security situation in Iraq.

The bill has been controversial because people are concerned that the troops could be drawn into battle, despite the war-renouncing Constitution that strictly limits the use of weapons overseas.

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