Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda paid a heavy price for winning Lower House passage of legislation to double the consumption tax rate by 2015.
Having 57 members of his Democratic Party of Japan vote against the bill means Noda's Cabinet faces a higher risk of having a no-confidence motion passed against it in the Lower House. If 42 of those lawmakers were to join hands with the Kizuna Party, made up of nine members who bolted the DPJ in January, the 51 lawmakers would be able to submit a no-confidence motion at any time in the Lower House.
Fifty-one members are required to submit a no-confidence motion in the 480-seat Lower House.
"We want to proceed in unison, regardless of whether a unified Diet group is formed or there is a merger of parties," said Akira Uchiyama, Kizuna Party head, at a June 26 news conference. "We will fully cooperate to place pressure on the Noda administration by focusing on the tax hike legislation in the next Lower House election."
However, those who voted against the tax bill are not unified about whether they should leave the DPJ right away. While some members feel the DPJ has already collapsed, others were saying they should remain in the party to pick a replacement for Noda in the DPJ presidential election to be held in September.
However, Kenji Yamaoka, a DPJ vice president who is close to former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, who led a group voting against the tax, said on June 26, "With what has played out, we would be insulting the public if we remained in the party. We no longer have that option."
Noda will also have to deal with those who decide to remain in the DPJ, but who hold strong dissatisfaction with the party leadership.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who voted against the bill, told reporters on June 26, "One of my colleagues received a call from a Cabinet minister who said, 'You should just throw Ozawa out of the party.' A Cabinet that places so little emphasis on harmony is unacceptable."
While members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party were smiling over the success of their strategy to split up the DPJ, they also realized they had not obtained a clear guarantee from Noda that he would dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.
Younger LDP lawmakers were saying that without such a guarantee, all the LDP was doing was providing life support for a failing Noda administration. The prime minister had staked his political future on passing the tax hike legislation.
LDP executives had decided to pursue a strategy of reaching an agreement with the DPJ that also included opposition New Komeito in order to gain passage of the legislation and also break up the DPJ.
However, having voted for the consumption tax hike legislation in the Lower House, the LDP and New Komeito will also have to at least give the appearance they were in favor of the bills in the Upper House that will now deliberate the legislation.
LDP head Sadakazu Tanigaki said at a June 26 meeting of party executives, "Once we have completed the task before us in the Upper House, we will do everything to place pressure for a Lower House dissolution."
However, a younger LDP member said, "The prime minister would never dissolve the chamber if the ensuing election would have devastating results for the DPJ."
With the possibility that some DPJ members who voted against the consumption tax legislation could remain in the party, there is also no guarantee that a no-confidence motion will pass the Lower House.
At the same time, Noda knows he is caught in a very delicate situation.
Although DPJ officials had hinted of possible lax disciplinary measures against those who voted against the legislation, Noda said at a June 26 news conference about the large number of rebels, "The results were very regrettable. We will deal with the matter in a strict manner based on internal party rules."
If all 57 DPJ members who opposed the legislation were expelled, the Noda Cabinet would face the constant threat of a no-confidence motion passing the Lower House since the DPJ would no longer have a majority.
Even if those members were given a slap on the wrist, they could still bolt from the party line and vote for a no-confidence motion if one was submitted in the Lower House.
While keeping one eye on his own party, Noda will also have to rely on the opposition LDP and New Komeito to gain passage of the consumption tax legislation in the Upper House. That will also require a delicate balancing act so that those opposition parties do not also gain the upper hand and have a say in when the Lower House is dissolved.
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