Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Row delays stimulus budget

TOKYO - JAPAN'S ruling and opposition parties bickered over a US$5.4 billion (S$8.09 billion) extra budget to fund government stimulus plans on Tuesday, in another sign of deadlock in parliament amid a deepening recession.

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

Opposition parties, eyeing the prospect of victory in an election due by October this year, have used their control of the upper house to delay bills.

The row also delayed a policy speech to parliament by Mr Aso, 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, Mr Aso is reluctant face a poll that could end more than five decades of almost unbroken rule by his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The opposition objects to an unpopular plan for 2 trillion yen in payouts to individuals, saying the money could better spent elsewhere, and is demanding its removal from an 4.79 trillion yen (S$80 billion) extra budget for the current fiscal year to March 31.

Many in the LDP also oppose 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.

'To extend debate due to opposition to the payouts is unacceptable,' Hiroyuki Hosoda, LDP secretary-general, told reporters.

'They have agreed to other parts of the budget and so having made that clear, it should be fine to pass the budget.'

The government also wants to start parliamentary debate on a record 88.5 trillion yen 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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