New Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government had its first casualty Friday as financial services minister Shizuka Kamei stepped down in protest because the Diet session won’t be extended to act on his controversial pet bill to scale back the postal system privatization.
But Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), which Kamei heads, will remain in the Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling coalition and support Kan’s new Cabinet, saving the administration from a potential crisis as it barely holds a majority in the Upper House. The ruling bloc holds 122 of the chamber’s 242 seats, including six held by Kokumin Shinto.
Kan appointed Shozaburo Jimi, Kokumin Shinto’s secretary general, to fill Kamei’s post.
Kokumin Shinto, which is backed by the nationwide election machine of postal workers, had demanded an extension to the current Diet session from its scheduled June 16 end so the postal reform bill he has championed could be enacted.
But the DPJ rejected the demand, despite Kokumin Shinto’s threats to leave the coalition. The DPJ is seeking to capitalize on its suddenly improved popularity with voters following Kan’s election to prime minister by setting the Upper House election for July 11, as originally scheduled.
“A promise has been broken. I am responsible for not being able to persuade (the prime minister) to” submit the bill during the current Diet session, Kamei told a hastily arranged news conference in the early hours of Friday.
Kamei is an advocate of aggressive state spending to prop up the economy, and opposes the reduction of Japanese government bond issues to improve the debt-ridden fiscal balance. His exit may thus help Kan, who advocates a tax hike, to curb bond issues and avert a potential fiscal crisis.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters Friday that while he regretted losing Kamei from the Cabinet, he believed the impact of his resignation on the administration “would be minimal.”
“Our agreement to run the administration together as coalition partners is unwavering,” he said.
In a compromise deal, Kokumin Shinto released a written agreement reached with the DPJ confirming the ruling coalition will prioritize deliberations on the postal bill at an extraordinary Diet session that will follow the Upper House election.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Jun Azumi, the newly appointed DPJ election planning chief, said he had already started preparations now that the election was expected July 11.
“It was regrettable, but also inevitable” that Kamei resigned, Azumi said, adding it is important for the DPJ to win a majority in the Upper House poll so it can smoothly enact legislation, including the postal reform bill, during the next Diet session.
Yasuharu Ishizawa, professor of politics and media at Gakushuin Women’s College, said Kamei’s resignation and the decision by the DPJ to delay submission of the postal bill ultimately benefited both parties.
Ishizawa said that if the DPJ had given in to Kokumin Shinto’s request to extend the Diet session and had rammed the bill through, it would only have served to harm the party’s popularity and given the opposition camp more ammunition.
“From a strictly financial perspective, the postal bill has its flaws. If the DPJ forced it through the Diet, it would invite heavy criticism,” Ishizawa said.
“But now the DPJ won’t have to worry about that.”
Kamei’s exit and the DPJ-Kokumin Shinto agreement to prioritize deliberations on the bill during an extraordinary Diet session helped save face for the smaller party, Ishizawa said.
The postal reform bill was central to the birth of Kokumin Shinto in 2005, and the party has been working with the DPJ to enact the bill during the current Diet session, even threatening to quit the bloc if it was not enacted.
“But Kokumin Shinto can say that although it tried and failed this time, it is going to remain in the coalition and work to enact the bill next time around,” Ishizawa said, noting this way Kokumin Shinto can still expect the support of postal workers in the coming election.
“It worked out well for both the DPJ and Kokumin Shinto,” he said.
The Social Democratic Party left the DPJ-led coalition on May 31, a blow that contributed to Yukio Hatoyama’s decision to resign as prime minister last week.
Before his resignation, Mizuho Fukushima, SDP chief and former minister in charge of population issues, had been criticizing Hatoyama for sticking to an earlier agreement with the U.S. to relocate the U.S. Futenma air base within Okinawa.
The opposition was quick to attack the DPJ for losing both Cabinet ministers from its coalition partners in such a short span of time.
“Kokumin Shinto, the SDP and the DPJ are parties that formed an alliance just for the sake of numbers,” Liberal Democratic Party Lower House lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi said. “They don’t share similar policies — it was evident from the beginning that the coalition would fall apart.”
While the opposition has been calling for an extension of the current session and has tried to call Ichiro Ozawa, the former DPJ secretary general, to the Diet for an explanation of his political funds scandal, the DPJ has maintained it would only extend the session by a day.
Prime Minister Kan is expected to be questioned by representatives from the opposition camp early next week, and the Diet session will end Thursday, a day later than scheduled.