Japan PM rejects call for election to break deadlock

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:00 PM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Friday he has no plan to call a snap election to break deadlock in the country's parliament, where opposition parties are threatening to block bills for a workable budget in the fiscal year from April.

Kan is under pressure to either resign or call an early poll as his clout in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) weakens and opposition parties refuse to cooperate with him on pushing through budget bills in the divided parliament.

Approval by the opposition-controlled upper house is needed to pass bills to make the 2011/12 budget work, including one allowing issuance of deficit-financing bonds and another that would lower the corporate tax rate.

Kan told opposition parties that he would not cave into their demands to call a snap election.

"I'm not thinking at all of dissolving the lower house," he told a parliamentary session.

But he added that he would "take action" if he needed to choose from the options available to him under the constitution, leaving room for him to take such a decision in the future.

Under the constitution, a prime minister must either resign or call a snap election if the lower house passes a no confidence motion. That could only happen if nearly 70 members of the DPJ vote in favor of such a motion.

Many DPJ lawmakers are against an early poll since the party would most likely lose a hefty chunk of seats.

An election might not resolve the deadlock in parliament anyway as whatever the outcome, no single party would have a majority of seats in both houses.

Kan, whose public support ratings have sunk to 20 percent, also faces growing calls including from within the DPJ to resign.

Adding to the government's woes, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara apologized on Friday for unknowingly accepting a donation from a foreign national, which would be illegal if he did so intentionally.

Maehara is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Kan if the prime minister were to resign.

Maehara had apologized the previous day for receiving a donation from a firm run by a man indicted for tax evasion, and on Friday, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he had done the same and would give the money back.

GOING PUBLIC

A ruling party lawmaker with ties to Kan's most influential rival became the first to publicly say that he will stand as leader if the premier steps down, media said on Friday.

"I will run if Prime Minister Kan resigns and there is a party leadership vote," Shinji Tarutoko, the party's former parliamentary affairs chief, was quoted by the Yomiuri newspaper as telling a TV program recorded on Thursday.

But it is unclear if Kan's resignation would make it any easier for the DPJ to implement policies in parliament. The second-biggest opposition party reportedly rejected a deal proposed by the DPJ last month in which Kan would quit in return for help in securing the passage of budget bills.

Failure to pass budget-related bills could cause a shutdown of parts of the government within months, similar to what happened in the United States in the 1990s, and increase the chance of more downgrades of Japan's debt rating.

Kan also has the option of hanging on to his job in hope that opposition parties will become more willing to cooperate with the ruling coalition in parliament after nationwide regional elections in April.

(Reporting by Leika Kihara and Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Joseph Radford)