Tokyo Notes

Clouds Gather as Budget Passes

Naoto Kan manages to get his extra budget passed. But two censure motions overshadow the achievement.

While Prime Minister Naoto Kan could take some comfort from seeing his 4.4 trillion yen extra budget finally getting Diet approval late Friday night, subsequent censure motions passed against two of his Cabinet members will have spoiled any sensation of respite he might otherwise have enjoyed.

It’s been another tough week for the premier. He started it by having to convince Justice Minister Minoru Yanagida to step down after a poorly chosen gag backfired, although this move failed to win him support later in the week from potential ally New Komeito, which was among the parties insisting the minister resign.

As Andy also mentioned in Tokyo Notes at the time, a Mainichi opinion poll on Monday showed that support for Kan’s administration had plunged to 26 percent. With such a low figure you can bet all the dailies will be ramping up their efforts to conduct new polls as momentum builds against the Cabinet.

Then the prime minister was slammed for his slow response to Pyongyang's dramatic shelling of South Korea on Tuesday. Having taken the high ground on the government's need to respond to crises quickly, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party would probably not like to be reminded of the round of golf former LDP Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori insisted on finishing back in 2001 despite hearing that a US submarine had hit a Japanese fishing boat with trainee high school kids onboard–a tragic accident in which nine died.

On Thursday, younger members of Kan’s Democratic Party of Japan called on the party to rethink its apparent U-turn on political donations by organizations and companies, saying partial acceptance of them contradicted the party’s manifesto, despite DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada’s insistence that it didn’t. This showed discontent in the ranks of the party and lingering dissatisfaction with the party’s backpedalling on its election promises.

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The extra budget was rejected by the upper house on Friday, but later approved by the Diet since the decision of the lower house to pass it takes precedence when it comes to budget votes. As for the non-binding upper house censure motions late last night against top government spokesman Yoshito Sengoku and Land and Transport Minister Sumio Mabuchi over the leaking of the Senkaku collision video, they will probably result in the LDP boycotting debate (or ‘sleeping’) when the two ministers are present for the remainder of the extra Diet session unless they resign. Legislative progress will grind from its current snail’s pace to a halt, as deadlock in the divided Diet deepens. Whether the LDP would be able to continue a boycott strategy in the next Diet session without itself being criticized is another matter, but for now full pressure will be applied on the Kan administration.

And this weekend is unlikely to offer Kan much of a break either. Today, the Okinawan gubernatorial election features two candidates who are both opposed to the relocation of the US Marine Corps’ Futenma base within the southern prefecture, further reducing the likelihood of a solution to the problem in the near future.

A grim week indeed.