As Japan once more heads toward political gridlock, the chances of Diet deliberations on legislation to raise the consumption tax rate beginning before the end of April are dwindling fast.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan had expected to establish a special committee in the Lower House on April 20 to consider the tax bill.
But those plans were stymied by the submission on April 18 of a censure motion in the Upper House against Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka and Takeshi Maeda, the land minister, by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Your Party and the New Renaissance Party.
The motions are expected to pass because the opposition controls a majority in the Upper House, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the Diet on April 18 that he had no intention of replacing the two ministers, regardless of whether the motions were passed.
At an April 18 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said: "Because the censure motions are not legally binding, it would not directly lead to a resignation of the ministers."
If the two ministers remain in their posts, a standoff between the government and the opposition is very likely. A high-ranking LDP executive indicated the party would boycott Diet deliberations until the ministers left their posts.
A conciliatory gesture by Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada has triggered an uproar in his own party and may only add fuel to the fire.
Although the Cabinet has already approved a plan to submit legislation in 2013 for a new pension system that would stipulate a minimum pension amount, Okada indicated that the minimum payment might yet be dropped.
At an April 17 session of the Lower House Health, Labor and Welfare Committee, Okada said: "We will not insist on submitting the legislation to the Diet next year."
Sources in the prime minister's office said Okada was intending to show flexibility on the issue and therefore encourage the opposition parties to participate in Diet deliberations on the consumption tax legislation.
If the LDP and New Komeito could be brought behind the consumption tax bill, that could be enough to get it passed in the face of opposition from dissident DPJ lawmakers.
But Okada's concession on the minimum pension proposal, which was included in the DPJ's campaign manifesto when he was party president and is a key plank of the party’s policy, is expected to draw stiff opposition from DPJ lawmakers, including the group led by Ichiro Ozawa. They insist that the party stick to its manifesto.
Because of its status as a key DPJ manifesto pledge, a retraction of the minimum pension provision could have been a valuable card in horse trading with the opposition on the consumption tax legislation.
However, playing the card before Diet deliberations have even begun, with two Cabinet ministers facing censure motions, may now give the opposition the upper hand.
A high-ranking official of the DPJ's Policy Research Committee said Okada's statement was not the policy of the ruling party.
Koriki Jojima, the chair of the DPJ's Diet Affairs Committee, also distanced himself from Okada's statement. He maintained the pension reform legislation would "be a key bill for next year's ordinary Diet session" and said he wanted "to confirm what (Okada) had in mind."
- « Prev
- Next »