DPJ bills clear Lower House, to stall

Opposition to put halt to bond, vote-value plans in Upper House

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan used its numeric advantage to pass two key bills through the Lower House on Tuesday amid a vote boycott by the main opposition parties, which plan to block passage of the legislation through the Sept. 8 end of the Diet session.

One bill would allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds, while the other would partially rectify the vote-value disparity in general elections. Both are expected to stall in the Upper House, where the opposition camp, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, instead submitted a nonbinding censure motion Tuesday evening against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. The Upper House is to vote on the motion on Wednesday.

The DPJ, which Noda heads, pushed the passage of the special bond bill through the Lower House ahead of the Diet session deadline. The LDP, the main opposition force, boycotted the vote.

The bond bill must be enacted before March because it covers 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget, but the LDP and New Komeito have opposed it in a bid to pressure Noda to dissolve the lower chamber and call a snap election.

Finance Minister Jun Azumi has warned that the government will run out of revenue sources in October if the special bond bill is not passed.

The DPJ also pushed the electoral reform bill to partially rectify the vote-value imbalance before the next Lower House election, because the Supreme Court ruled last year that the disparity in the 2009 general election, which brought the DPJ to power, was “in a state of unconstitutionality.” It took 2.3 times more voters in the nation’s most populous district, the Chiba No. 4, to elect one lawmaker than it did in the least populous district, the Kochi No. 3.

The reform bills call for eliminating 45 seats from the 480-seat Lower House by trimming one single seat from five depopulated prefectures and cutting 40 proportional representation seats. This would be expected to ease the inequality to 2 from 2.3 by eliminating the five districts.

Before Tuesday’s Lower House plenary session, LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara criticized the DPJ for pushing ahead with the votes on the two bills while the opposition camp is against the legislation. “If the ruling party can change the electoral system in a way that is advantageous to it, this will destroy parliamentary democracy,” he said.

DPJ Diet Affairs Chief Koriki Jojima fired back, saying the ruling party has discussed electoral system reforms with the opposition camp since last fall and needed to vote on the bills before time ran out on the Diet session. The DPJ submitted its bills to the Diet in June.

“It’s regrettable that (the opposition parties) seem uneager to fix the vote-value disparity and to reduce Lower House seats,” Jojima said after the plenary session.

The LDP also submitted its own electoral reform bill in late July, but it calls only for eliminating five seats in the single-seat districts.