A special committee of the House of Councilors passed a package of postal privatization bills Friday, pushing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi toward a final showdown with reform foes in his Liberal Democratic Party in Monday’s plenary session.
The six bills were passed with full support from the LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito. No LDP privatization opponents sat on the 35-member panel.
The panel also adopted a 15-point supplementary resolution to be attached to the bills, proposed by the ruling coalition, to address concerns that privatizing postal services would lead to post-office closures and layoffs.
Earlier Friday, the Upper House Steering Committee decided to put the bills to a vote at the plenary session Monday afternoon.
“The situation remains severe,” Koizumi told reporters following the committee session when asked about the prospect of the bills being passed. “(I) consider the possibility of either approval or rejection to be 50-50.”
The prime minister has threatened to dissolve the House of Representatives and call an election if the bills are rejected. The prospect of rejection is growing, and has prompted both the ruling and opposition camps to gear up for an electoral battle.
Asked about those LDP members who say he is bluffing, Koizumi said: “There seems to be that notion, but (they) probably don’t know my real intentions.”
The situation became more dire for the LDP top brass Friday morning, as Hirofumi Nakasone, chairman of the Upper House group of the LDP faction led by Shizuka Kamei, an active opponent to the privatization campaign, openly declared himself against the bills and criticized Koizumi for violating the authority of the Upper House.
Several political observers said the move by Nakasone, a former education minister, has given momentum to the antiprivatization camp; several other members of the 18-strong Kamei faction who had been undecided are expected to follow his lead.
Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Takeaki Kashimura, another Upper House member of the faction, declared his opposition to the bills, and tendered his resignation from his Defense Agency post.
“We are facing a threat to parliamentary politics,” he said. “Can (the prime minister) do whatever (he wishes) once (he threatens the Upper House) by saying he will dissolve (the Lower House)?”
Toranosuke Katayama, secretary general of the LDP Upper House caucus, said Nakasone’s announcement may have some impact on the outcome of the bills.
“We must adopt the regular tactics — to keep trying to persuade” as many members as possible over the weekend to agree to the bills, he told a news conference before the special committee voted.
The bills will be voted down if 18 of the 114 LDP members in the 242-seat House of Councilors and everyone in the opposition camp votes against the package.
The bills are the centerpiece of Koizumi’s reform agenda, but they are being bitterly opposed not only by the opposition camp but many within his own party, who depend on the state-run postal system as a solid vote-gathering machine for their constituencies.
Koizumi has said the bills’ failure would mean a vote of no-confidence against his Cabinet, forcing him to call a snap general election.
His election threat has angered opposition party members and estranged LDP privatization opponents, many of whom fear they could lose their Diet seats if they have to campaign for an election from a divided party.
About 12 LDP members are expected to vote against the bills, while around 20 others have not yet revealed which side they will support.
“The LDP, led by its president, Koizumi, has fallen into a state of dysfunction,” Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Tatsuo Kawabata told a news conference before Friday’s panel vote.
“If (the Lower House is) dissolved, we take it as the chance of a lifetime (to realize a change in government), and would say ‘Thank you.’ “
If the bills are passed, Japan Post would be disbanded in April 2007 and, under a holding firm, split into four entities to cover mail delivery, postal savings, postal life insurance and over-the-counter services.
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