TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's opposition-controlled upper house of parliament voted to censure two ministers in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's cabinet, further complicating his task of gaining support for his sales tax hike plan in a divided parliament.
Noda needs opposition backing to pass bills that would double the sales tax to 10 percent in two stages by October 2015 to help fund swelling welfare costs.
But the opposition so far has refused to cooperate, hoping that a stalemate will force Noda to call an early election and the censure of ministers who hold defense and transport portfolios gives it another bargaining chip.
The motions are non-binding, but in the past the opposition has successfully used a threat of stalling parliamentary debates to force ministers out. The biggest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has already threatened to boycott proceedings unless the ministers are sacked.
But Noda, who has already parted with three ministers since he formed his cabinet in September, has signaled he would not cave in for now, hoping that a boycott will irk the public, and the LDP will eventually join tax debates.
Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka came under attack for a series of remarks that the opposition said revealed his lack of familiarity with key security issues. He was also criticized for a slow government response to the failed rocket launch by North Korea last week. Transport Minister Takeshi Maeda has been accused of interfering in a local election.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)