Japan passes stimulus budget after Parliament row

Japan’s ruling and opposition parties enacted a $53-billion extra budget on Tuesday to fund government stimulus plans, after two days of bickering in another sign of deadlock in Parliament amid a deepening recession.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, his approval rating below 20%, wants to quickly enact budget bills, but faces a divided Parliament. He had hoped to pass the extra budget on Monday.

Opposition parties, eyeing the prospect of victory in an election due by October this year, are using their control of the upper house to delay Bills, including legislation needed to implement the extra budget.

The row also delayed a policy speech to Parliament by Aso until Wednesday, as ruling and opposition lawmakers spent the day discussing clashing versions of the extra budget approved by Parliament’s two chambers.

The Democrats, the main opposition party, want to force an early election but with voter support flagging, Aso is reluctant to face a poll that could end more than five decades of almost unbroken rule by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The opposition had objected to an unpopular plan for ¥2-trillion in payouts to individuals, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere, and demanded its removal from the ¥4,79-trillion ($53,4-billion) extra budget for the current fiscal year to March 31.

“We still have related bills in Parliament, so we want to debate those in a way that asks the public which [party] is making the right decisions,” Yukio Hatoyama, the Democrats’ secretary-general, told reporters.

Many in the LDP were also opposed to the payouts. A former Cabinet minister quit the party over the plan and other policy differences in a sign of the LDP’s fraying unity.

The government wants to start Parliamentary debate on a record ¥88,5-trillion budget for the next fiscal year, but opposition parties are against debating two budgets in parallel.

Although surveys show that a hefty majority of voters are opposed to the payouts, the opposition risks sparking a backlash if it delays too long given the worsening economy.

“At a time when the economy and employment situation is worsening, for the Democrats to vainly refuse debate or extend debate will not win the support of public opinion,” the Nikkei business daily said in an editorial.—Reuters

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