Embattled Japan PM Hangs On, For Now

U.S. seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong rides with his teammates during training on the rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Limoges, central France, July 14, 2009.
AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski
Japan's ruling party defeated a no-confidence motion Tuesday against the prime minister's Cabinet, but an increasingly bold opposition used the occasion to heap criticism on the government it aims to oust in national elections next month.

The powerful lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, easily voted down the motion, 333 to 139.

The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposing parties submitted the motion to create a forum to criticize Prime Minister Taro Aso's government, which is reeling from a ruling party loss this weekend in Tokyo municipal elections seen as a barometer of voter sentiment.

After the results were released Monday, Aso said he would dissolve parliament next week and call general elections for Aug. 30. The leader of the party that wins will almost certainly become Japan's next prime minister.

A censure motion against Aso, with little purpose other than to embarrass him, passed the upper house later Tuesday afternoon. The upper house, the weaker of the two, is under the control of the opposition.

In a raucous session by the lower house of parliament, Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the opposing Democrats, gave a wide-ranging criticism of Japan's current leadership.

"Prime Minister Aso has only clung to his post. The employment situation has worsened as he repeated pork-barrel handouts in obvious vote-buying, none of which has helped to improve the lives of the people," Hatoyama said.

Political maneuvering has intensified since Aso's ruling party was routed by Hatoyama's Democrats and lost their majority in a Tokyo municipal election held over the weekend. The vote has no direct effect on the national government but was widely viewed as a test of strength of the two parties.

The Liberal Democrats, which have governed Japan for the past five decades, except a brief period in 1993, have been struggling to maintain their grip on power.

Recent newspaper opinion polls have suggested the opposition party is well-placed to make considerable gains, and put Hatoyama ahead of Aso as the people's choice as prime minister.

The Liberal Democrats currently have 303 seats in the 480-seat lower house, and their partner Komeito has 31. The Democratic Party has just 112.

But Aso, who took office in September last year, has been dogged by criticism that he has failed to do enough to bring Japan - the world's second-largest economy - out of its current recession or demonstrate leadership on other key issues such as global warming.

For months, the opposition has stalled or blocked Aso on several political fronts while it has demanded elections be called, creating gridlock in parliament that Japanese voters appear to be increasingly unwilling to accept.