Monday, November 29, 1999

Japan chooses July poll amid opposition resistance

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Japan will hold upper house elections on July 11, the government said on Wednesday, to capitalise on a jump in ratings, despite calls from opposition parties for more debate in parliament.The ruling Democratic Party of Japan's (DPJ) support rates have bounced since Prime Minister Naoto Kan took over from his unpopular predecessor, Yukio Hatoyama, last week, improving the party's chances in the vote.The DPJ will stay in power regardless of the election outcome given its majority in the lower house, but the party needs to win in the upper chamber to forge ahead smoothly with policies to cut the country's huge public debt.For graphic on voter intentions, click graphic on voter support, click the DPJ for not extending the current session of parliament after the abrupt leadership change, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) handed in a motion of no-confidence against the cabinet on the last day of debate.But the move was voted down in the powerful lower house, where opposition parties are outnumbered by the ruling bloc. The upper house also scrapped non-binding censure motions against Kan and a cabinet minister, media said."If debate took place, their (the Democrats') support rate would fall," Jiro Kawasaki, an LDP executive in charge of parliamentary affairs, told reporters. "Prime Minister Kan is clearly running away."Kan, Japan's fifth premier in three years, has rejected calls for an extended parliament session, listening instead to DPJ lawmakers who wanted an election as soon as possible.Media polls show support for Kan's cabinet at around 60 percent, a jump from around 20 percent during Hatoyama's final days in office.Asked if he was considering dissolving the lower house of parliament to take advantage of the robust support, Kan said such a move is not among his option."There seem to be people who are speculating on the dissolution of the lower chamber. That is not something that is in my mind," Kan told reporters.As widely expected, Kan's week-old cabinet decided to hold the upper house election on July 11.ELECTION CHANCESKan has revamped the DPJ's image among voters, tapping policy experts for key cabinet posts and distancing himself from a scandal-tainted party kingpin who was seen as pulling the strings in Hatoyama's government."Former prime minister Hatoyama had no heart. He had no ability to judge the situation properly so it all ended in disaster," said retiree Kyoko Suiguchi, 65."I'll be voting for Kan's (party) because they really know what they're doing."But while the leadership change has improved the DPJ's election chances, it remains unclear if the party can win an outright majority and avoid policy deadlock as it tries to strengthen an economic recovery and fix tattered public finances.Fiscal problems in Europe and growing market concerns about sovereign debt risk have prompted Kan to make tackling Japan's public debt -- now near twice the size of GDP -- a top priority.Kan also faces a headache over the U.S. Marines' Futenma airbase on the southern island of Okinawa, whose residents associate the U.S. military with noise, pollution and crime.Hatoyama resigned after giving up on a promise to move Futenma off Okinawa, saying the bases were needed for deterrence against threats such as North Korea."There should be no base (on Okinawa) and there should be no increase in bases," Yoichi Iha, mayor of Ginowan City, where Futenma is located, told a news conference.If the Democrats fail to win a majority, it would need to maintain its current coalition with the tiny, pro-spendingPeople's New Party (PNP), or seek help from other allies to pass bills, complicating policy making."There is still a month before the election so the Democrats' ratings could well cool by then," said Mikitaka Masuyama, a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies."It's likely that no party wins a majority and there will be a lot of political jockeying after the election to pull together groups for a majority."(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Benjamin Shatil, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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