Japan passes controversial law

TOKYO, Reuters

Japan’s parliament passed a controversial election law on Thursday which may give embattled Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s ruling coalition an edge in crucial Upper House elections next year, analysts said.

The ruling bloc, dominated by Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), must do well after an election last June slashed its majority in the Lower House and deprived the LDP of a simple majority.

The coalition has a majority in the Upper House, but could face a tough battle given Mori’s sagging popularity.

The opposition, led by the Democratic Party, staged a 20-day boycott of parliamentary proceedings in an effort to block action on the election bill. They abandoned the effort last Friday after the legislation was railroaded through the Upper House.

The opposition denounced that move as undemocratic, while the government criticized the opposition for failing to take part in parliamentary debate on a host of key issues, including economic reforms.

“The ruling coalition took proper procedures,” chief Cabinet secretary Hidenao Nakagawa told a news conference on Thursday. “Now we hope the bill will receive support.”

The new law gives voters a choice between individual candidates and parties when casting ballots for the 100 proportional representation seats in the 252-member Upper House.

Up to now, voters were only able to cast ballots for parties, not individual candidates, in proportional representation districts. Seats were then allocated to candidates based on the order their names appeared on party-prepared lists.

The reform could benefit the ruling coalition because its candidates often have higher name recognition and stronger personal support groups — a trait especially true of the LDP, which dominated post-war Japanese government virtually without interruption for nearly 50 years.

The ruling parties proposed the revision after a scandal in July toppled Mori’s top financial regulator, who admitted receiving funds from a trust bank and a builder, allegedly to help him win a top spot on the LDP list of Upper House candidates.

With the bill out of the way, the opposition is turning to a string of scandals dogging Mori’s Cabinet, many of which center around Nakagawa, the chief Cabinet secretary, prompting calls for his resignation.

Nakagawa, who has denied allegations involving a mistress and right-wing extremists, said on Thursday that it was up to Mori to decide whether he should resign.

Domestic newspapers have reported calls for his resignation are increasing among the ruling coalition to limit damage to Mori’s Cabinet, and it was almost certain he would eventually have to go.