Japan PM faces revolt in budget bill

TOKYO, March 1, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's beleaguered premier faced an internal party revolt on Tuesday when 16 of his own lawmakers failed to vote for his centre-left government's record $1.1-trillion budget.

The revolt is a further blow for Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who after less than a year in office is battling approval ratings below 20 percent and the threat of legislative gridlock from the conservative opposition.

The rebels are supporters of Kan's nemesis, scandal-tainted faction boss Ichiro Ozawa, often dubbed the "Shadow Shogun", who failed in a bid last year to oust Kan, but who did vote with the government in the parliamentary vote.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan (C) and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano (R) attend a meeting held at the prime minister's official residence on March 1, 2010. AFP

The premier's top spokesman Yukio Edano warned that the 16 breakaway lawmakers "will be dealt with severely" by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which took power in a 2009 landslide but has since slipped badly in the polls.

"Those who missed the vote on purpose cannot possibly be accepted by the public as they can hardly be described as responsible members of the ruling party," Edano, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters.

Kan earlier told reporters the boycott was "regrettable" and said "it is urgent to approve the budget and enact it for the sake of the people".

The premier faces tough hurdles in coming months as he seeks to ram economic stimulus measures through parliament and to find ways to whittle down a public debt mountain twice the size of Japan's five-trillion-dollar economy.

The 92.4 trillion yen budget for fiscal 2011 is almost certain to clear parliament before its April 1 deadline under Japanese constitutional rules, even if the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) blocks it.

However, bills required to enact and finance the budget are in doubt, because Kan's party lacks the two-thirds lower house majority to overcome opposition in the conservative-controlled upper chamber.

Most crucial among those threatened bills is one to issue 38.2 trillion yen worth of bonds to cover the deficit -- without which the government could be headed for a cash shortage within months.

Also threatened would be a bill to raise child payments to help working families and aimed at lifting the low birth rate in rapidly greying Japan.

The DPJ splinter group compounds Kan's hurdles, making it nearly impossible for him to gain the two-thirds majority needed for budget support bills -- even if he wins the backing of smaller parties, which have so far rebuffed him.

Ozawa's supporters first threatened to defy Kan last week when the DPJ suspended the membership of the powerbroker until the end of his trial over political funding irregularities, in which Ozawa maintains his innocence.

The LDP has meanwhile pushed for Kan to dissolve the lower house and call fresh elections, which the conservative party hopes would restore it as the governing party -- a position it held for most of Japan's post-war era.

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