Fearing an even greater exodus of lawmakers, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan weakened its punishment against former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama for voting against legislation to raise the consumption tax rate.
The Standing Officers Council decided on July 9 to suspend Hatoyama's party privileges for three months, rather than the original period of six months.
Members of the intraparty group led by Hatoyama objected to the initial disciplinary measure because Hatoyama was the only one whose party privileges would be suspended for six months. Other lawmakers who voted against the legislation would only face a two-month period without such privileges.
Before the Standing Officers Council, the DPJ's ethics committee questioned five Lower House members who voted against the tax hike bills.
One of them, Yorihisa Matsuno, told the committee: "A former prime minister and first-term lawmakers all have the same rights. Why was Hatoyama alone given a six-month penalty?"
After the meeting, Matsuno was asked by reporters if he was considering leaving the DPJ. He said that was something he would have to think about.
The initial strong measure against Hatoyama was a reflection of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's intention to exert authority over the tax increase. But it led to greater resistance among Hatoyama group members.
The 20 or so lawmakers who voted against the consumption tax bill or who abstained began holding a series of meetings to vent their frustration.
After the DPJ’s proposed disciplinary measure was released, two members of the Hatoyama group, Gaku Kato and Harunobu Yonenaga, submitted letters of resignation to the DPJ.
If 15 Lower House members were to vote for a no-confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet submitted by opposition parties, the motion would pass. That situation led to greater concerns among DPJ executives about the potential fallout from imposing the strict disciplinary measure against Hatoyama.
Members of the DPJ ethics committee were also aware of the resistance. In an unusual move, the committee issued a recommendation to DPJ Secretary-General Azuma Koshiishi to review the penalty against Hatoyama due to the imbalance in disciplinary measures against lawmakers.
Koshiishi immediately decided to halve the period for Hatoyama to three months. His decision was approved by the Standing Officers Council.
The council also formally approved the expelling of Ichiro Ozawa and 36 members of his group who submitted letters of resignation to protest the tax hike and are scheduled to form a new party.
Despite the weaker disciplinary measure against Hatoyama, there is no guarantee that he or his group will remain in the DPJ or vote against a no-confidence motion against the Noda Cabinet.
Asked by reporters about the disciplinary measure on July 9, Hatoyama said: "I campaigned by using the party manifesto. I cannot support any proposal that is completely opposite to the manifesto. I have no interest in the disciplinary measure because I acted while preparing for the consequences."
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