A no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet was voted down Tuesday by the ruling coalition and others, in a last-minute political showdown the day before an ordinary Diet session was scheduled to end.
Submitted by opposition forces — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Democratic Party for the People, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party — the motion slammed the administration's COVID-19 response, insistence on hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games and unwillingness to hold itself accountable over its decisions.
The move came after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, turned down calls from the opposition to extend the Diet session by three months, to discuss further COVID-19 countermeasures and a possible supplementary budget.
“It’s unacceptable to refuse a Diet session extension that the opposition had requested strongly during the biggest crisis since World War II,” said CDP leader Yukio Edano, who went on to highlight a laundry list of policies his party would implement if it won an election.
Suga “is unqualified to be a leader during a time of crisis," Edano added. "We strongly demand he immediately step down.”
The ruling parties and opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai voted down the motion during Tuesday’s Lower House plenary session.
The opposition's lodging of a no-confidence motion — the first since June 2019 — and the ruling coalition voting it down have become almost a customary end-of-session occurrence. But the latest developments come as Suga and LDP executives have been alluding to a possibility of triggering a snap election, with the terms of Lower House members set to expire in October.
Despite the prime minister’s approval rating having halved during his nine months in office, the parties in power are confident that they will win a general election against disjointed opposition groups with significantly lower poll numbers.
With the ruling coalition challenging them with the prospect of an immediate election, opposition parties were initially ambivalent on whether submitting a no-confidence motion would be worth the risk.
Earlier Tuesday, LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters Suga had decided “solemnly” to vote down the motion. Asked about the possibility of Suga dissolving the Diet for a snap election, Nikai backed off from earlier remarks threatening a snap election if the opposition filed a no-confidence motion.
“I don’t think that would happen at this point from a commonsense point of view,” Nikai said.
With 10 prefectures still under a COVID-19 state of emergency, forcing a vote would not necessarily be the best option for the ruling coalition, either.
The latest poll by public broadcaster NHK, released Monday, showed the Cabinet’s approval rating stood at 37% — up 2 percentage points from last month, when it was the lowest since Suga assumed office last September. But the disapproval rating this month set a record high, at 45%.
Nevertheless, the ruling party recognized weakness and disunity in the opposition. Edano, CDP leader, had been unenthusiastic in May about the calling of an election, apparently nervous about the opposition being criticized for creating a political vacuum in the middle of the pandemic.
The opposition eventually requested a session extension beyond Wednesday, seen as a pretense and justification for putting forward the no-confidence motion given how unlikely it was that the request would be accepted. The parties waited until Suga had returned from a Group of Seven summit meeting in the U.K., with just a day of the Diet session remaining.
Amid fierce objection from opposition parties, the emboldened ruling parties are eager to pass legislation to limit foreign real estate deals near sensitive defense sites by Wednesday.
The ruling parties need to hold an election by October, but the most viable scenario being floated in the political district of Nagatacho is holding the vote sometime in September, after the Paralympics but before the LDP presidential race.
One senior administration official was optimistic earlier Tuesday that the ruling coalition had the upper hand, saying that if the vote of no-confidence went ahead "then that means we can call for a snap election whenever, since they are saying, ‘We aren’t confident of your abilities.'”
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