Thursday, November 15, 2012

Noda Calls For December 16 Elections


DPJ unseated by LDP landslide.  Shinzo Abe new Prime Minister

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Wednesday that he will dissolve the Diet on Friday and call a general election on Dec 16.
Noda’s pledge, made after a heated parliamentary exchange with Liberal Democratic Party chief Shinzo Abe, drew protests from some lawmakers within his own party who are not keen to face a vote at a time when the economy is ailing and public approval ratings for Noda’s cabinet have fallen below 20%.
Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) deputy party secretary general Jun Azumi told broadcaster NHK that the country would be going to the polls on Dec 16.
“We will quickly draft our campaign platform, as the official campaign will start on Dec 4,” Azumi said, referring to the start of a 12-day period that will come ahead of polling day.
Azumi’s confirmation came after a showdown in the Diet between Noda and Abe in which Noda said he would dissolve the house on Friday if he got pledges on electoral reform.
Abe, a former prime minister and recently re-elected leader of the LDP, said later in the day: “I will fully cooperate with Prime Minister Noda’s proposal.”
LDP secretary general Shigeru Ishiba told reporters that senior party officials “had decided to cooperate, taking seriously the prime minister’s comment”, Jiji Press said.
A promise on electoral reform was one of the conditions Noda has publicly set in order to call an election.
The passage of legislation that will allow the government to borrow more money and pay bills that fall due this financial year was another.
Agreement on that issue was reached Tuesday.
Azumi told NHK that Noda had put country before party in working out the timing of the ballot.
“It is not a schedule that benefits our party. But the prime minister made his decision, thinking of the national interest first,” he said.
“There was tense opposition in our party against parliamentary dissolution. We must be strong. Unless we stay strong, changes of the government cannot happen in the future.”
Opinion polls in recent months have made dismal reading for Noda, with public support leeching away from his fragmenting party.
The DPJ came to power in 2009 on a wave of optimism, sweeping the long-ruling LDP aside, but has suffered in office from policy flip-flops and weak leadership.
The party is thought likely to come off badly in an election, with voters angry about Noda’s pet legislative achievement: the doubling of sales tax over the next few years.
But the LDP, a largely conservative party that nonetheless has a diverse parliamentary membership, has been unable to capitalise on the DPJ’s unpopularity.
Most observers say the signs point to an election without a clear result and say a field of recently-sprouted smaller parties is likely to lead to a messy coalition.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Shinzo Abe Says LDP Wants Bond Talks

The Liberal Democratic Party is ready to accept Diet talks on a crucial deficit-covering bond bill, Shinzo Abe, president of the main opposition party, said Thursday.
Abe thus signaled an effective change in the stance of the LDP, which has been demanding the Diet first hold budget committee meetings before discussing the deficit bond bill.
The bill is designed to allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds to finance the budget for fiscal 2012.
"I don't mind if talks [on the bond bill] begin while the prime minister is away," Abe said in a street speech in Tokyo. "I don't mind discussing details of the bill."
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is scheduled to visit Laos for four days from Sunday to attend a summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM.
Abe said the LDP also hopes members of a planned national council on social security reforms will be selected soon. The LDP will actively tackle issues Noda has specified as conditions for calling a general election for the House of Representatives, he said.
The LDP and the other major opposition party, New Komeito, have been pressing Noda to dissolve the lower house for a snap election by the end of this year.

Noda looks for extra budget in January

Meanwhile, Noda indicated his intention Thursday to give up submitting a fiscal 2012 supplementary budget during the ongoing extraordinary Diet session, instead aiming for its enactment at the beginning of an ordinary session starting in January.
The government "will consider the timing and content of the extra budget based on progress in deliberations on a deficit-covering bond bill and the content of new economic stimulus measures," Noda said at a lower house plenary meeting, replying to a question from a senior member of New Komeito.
The remark by Noda appeared certain to provoke a backlash from opposition parties urging the prime minister to dissolve the lower house of the Diet for an election by the end of December.
After adopting additional economic measures in late November, the government is expected to draw up the extra budget in December. In mid-December, it will begin compiling the fiscal 2013 budget.
Such schedules make it difficult for the Diet to handle the extra budget during the current session even if it is extended beyond its scheduled Nov. 30 end.
At the lower house meeting, Noda called on the LDP and New Komeito to cooperate to enact the extra budget. "For an early exit from deflation as well as to boost the economy, I hope that the ruling and opposition parties will not hesitate to discuss the challenges our country faces, including the deficit-covering bond bill for fiscal 2012," he said.
The bill is needed to fully implement the budget for the year ending in March.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nationalist Ishihara Resigns

Ishihara, Former Gov of Tokyo

Tokyo Gov Shintaro Ishihara, whose plan to buy disputed islands ignited a smouldering row with China, on Thursday branded Japan’s pacifist constitution “ugly” as he launched a bid for national power.
The outspoken 80-year-old Ishihara said he was giving up his role at the helm of one of the world’s largest cities to form his own political party ahead of expected general elections.
“As of today, I will resign as Tokyo governor,” Ishihara told a news conference, brandishing a white envelope. “I’m planning to return to national politics. I want to do so by forming a new party with my associates.”
Observers say elections—which must be held within the next year, but are seen likely to come sooner—will probably not produce a clear result, giving smaller parties a powerful voice in the expected coalition-building.
Ishihara, whose pronouncements on history have irked China—he once denied the 1937 Rape of Nanking ever happened—said he saw much wrong with national politics.
“There are several contradictions, big contradictions, which we hope the state itself will solve,” he told reporters.
“One contradiction, bigger than anything, is the Japanese constitution, which was imposed by the (post-World War II U.S.) occupying army, and is rendered in ugly Japanese.”
Like many on the right of Japanese politics, novelist-turned-politician Ishihara objects, among other things, to Article 9 of the constitution, which bars Japan from waging war.
Ishihara, who has been an irascible presence in the national conversation for decades, will co-opt members of the tiny right-wing Sunrise Party for his new venture, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
He will also seek to join hands with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a straight-talking maverick whose recently-formed Japan Restoration Party has ambitions to seize control of the powerful lower house.
Embattled Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is under pressure to call a general election after telling opposition parties he would go to the polls “soon” if they supported his unpopular bill to double the consumption tax.
His own approval ratings are low and his ill-disciplined Democratic Party of Japan is likely to be given short shrift by voters disillusioned with its three years in office.
But the establishment Liberal Democratic Party—to which Ishihara once belonged—has largely been unable to capitalise on Noda’s poor standing and many commentators say a national ballot would produce stalemate.
On Thursday, Ishihara said he would “cooperate and collaborate” with Hashimoto’s group, while the Osaka mayor said he would “have many discussions” with Ishihara, Kyodo reported.
Ishihara’s move Thursday comes months after he roiled often-tense Japan-China ties by suddenly announcing he wanted to buy a group of uninhabited but strategically important islands in the East China Sea.
He amassed 1.4 billion yen in public donations for the metropolitan government to acquire the Senkakus, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China as the Diaoyus.
That forced Noda to step in and outbid him in what ministers have maintained was an attempt to avoid an escalation of the long-running dispute.
Nationalists on both sides staged island landings before the government completed its purchase of three of the five islands in the chain—it already owned a fourth and leases the fifth—on Sept 11.
Beijing reacted furiously and tens of thousands of protesters poured onto the streets in cities across China, some vandalising Japanese business outlets.
Japan’s exports to China, its biggest trading partner, tumbled 14.1% last month, with some saying the row triggered a fall-off in demand for Japanese-branded products.
On Thursday four Chinese government ships spent several hours in waters around the islands, Japan’s coast guard said, the latest seaborne confrontation between official vessels from Asia’s two largest economies.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Koga Will Not Support Tanigaki

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Sadakazu Tanigaki received a setback Monday in his bid to be re-elected party president when Makoto Koga, the head of his faction, refused to back him.

Koga told reporters after the meeting that he preferred to support a younger candidate, Sankei Shimbun reported. He added the party needs to nurture a new generation of younger leaders.

Tanigaki, 67, said he cannot run away from his responsibility and said he will seek support from all factions, Sankei reported. The LDP leader said his goal is to return the party to power and implement tax and social security reform.

So far, Nobutaka Machimura and Nobuteru Ishihara have signaled their intention to vie for the leadership, while Shigeru Ishiba and Shinzo Abe are expected to toss their hats in the ring later this week.

Campaigning begins on Sept 14 and the election will be held on Sept 26.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Noda Snubs Anti-nuke Group

There were no smiles. There were no handshakes.
Yoshihiko Noda conceded nothing and angry protesters stormed out of the room on Aug. 22 after a 30-minute face-to-face confab between the prime minister and representatives of the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes.
The meeting at the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo came after months of weekly anti-nuclear protests outside Noda's office that have swollen from hundreds of people to thousands of irate citizens upset over Noda's decision in June to restart two reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
"I don't think our demands meant anything to him," said a coalition member who attended the meeting.
Undaunted, the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes said after the meeting that the weekly protests will continue.
It all came about on July 31, when representatives of the group consulted with lawmakers who favor a gradual phaseout of nuclear energy. During that meeting, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he would act as an intermediary to try and set up a meeting with Noda.
The prime minister's office initially said the gathering would take place only if initial parts of the meeting would be disclosed and that there would no live television coverage. However, the prime minister's office eventually gave the OK for media coverage and a live broadcast of the entire meeting, coalition members said.
Both sides agreed to meet for just 20 minutes. The protesters agreed beforehand among themselves to avoid any conversations that could allow Noda to make long remarks.
"There will be no petition or negotiation," a group member said. "This will be a protest inside the prime minister's office."
The meeting got under way at 2 p.m. After Noda's opening remarks, the 10 members of the protest group demanded the shutdown of the restarted nuclear reactors and stressed the "change" their weekly protests have generated.
"There has long been an aversion to social movements and demonstrations in Japan," one of them said. "But that is undergoing a major shift now."
"Demonstrations are venues where people express their anger," another said. "The protesters are maintaining their strength because you (Noda) keep throwing fuel into the fire."
But Noda gave no nod of approval or recognition of their demands. Instead, he reiterated his government's policy of deciding on a mid- to long-term energy policy after listening to various opinions. He talked for three minutes in total.
When the allotted 20 minutes were up, the protesters demanded more time. They were given 10 minutes, after which they angrily left the room.
"There is almost nothing we can approve of," one of them said.
"Representative democracy is not functioning in Japan," illustrator Misao Redwolf, a key member of the protest group, said at a news conference after the meeting. "Nuclear reactors were restarted, although more than 80 percent of the people prefer a departure from nuclear energy."
"It was the dormant democracy of Japan that has been restarted," another group member said.
The weekly protests outside the prime minister's office in Tokyo have spawned similar protests in dozens of other cities across Japan.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Japan - China Island Dispute Gets Out Of Hand

The governor of Tokyo wants to buy them, Taiwan says it would like them back and China has made their return a national priority. But for the Kurihara family, the islands Japan knows as Senkaku are just a bit of land they would really rather sell.
“The conflict is escalating more and more,” Hiroyuki Kurihara told AFP in an interview about the islands, known in China as Diaoyu, where Japanese nationalists landed Sunday after a similar venture by pro-Beijing activists.
All 14 involved in that action were deported Friday in an apparent bid by Tokyo to head off a potentially destabilizing row with Beijing.
“We are worried that the government cannot cope with the situation over the islands,” said Kurihara.
His powerful merchant family are the legal owners of four of the five islands in the Senkakus, an archipelago some 2,000 kilometers from Tokyo but less than 200 kilometers from Taiwan.
China, Taiwan and Japan all say they are part of their territory. They are administered by Tokyo, which holds title to the fifth island and bans development on them all, not allowing anyone to land.
While Beijing claims more than five centuries of control, Tokyo says a Kyushu businessman landed on the uninhabited—and unclaimed—outcrops at the end of the 19th century.
That businessman was Tatsuhiro Koga, who set up factories there processing bonito fish and albatross feathers.
The tumult of war led to the islands being abandoned, and along with Okinawa they were put under US military control following Tokyo’s surrender at the end of World War II.
When Okinawa was handed back to Japan in 1972, the Senkakus were returned to Koga’s son Zenji.
Around that time geologists said the seabed nearby could contain large reserves of oil and gas, while Beijing and Taipei began asserting their claims.
With no heir of his own, Koga decided to sell the islands to the Kuriharas, long-time friends from the suburbs of Tokyo who ran a trading house and owned land throughout Japan.
The eldest brother Kunioki, now 70, holds the legal rights to Uotsurijima, Kitakojima and Minamikojima, which the national government leases for 25 million yen a year. A fourth island is owned by his sister and rented to the defense ministry for an undisclosed sum.
Koga made only one demand when he sold the islands to the family.
“My brother promised Mr Koga that he will never do anything to sever history,” said Hiroyuki Kurihara. “That means he won’t sell them to private entities.”
But with a potentially huge inheritance tax bill if the islands are passed on to the next generation, the Kurihara family want to sell.
Conveniently for them, the nationalist governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, earlier this year announced that his administration wanted to buy them, catching the governments of Japan and China off-guard.
He has since collected more than 1.4 billion yen in donations towards a reported purchase price of up to 2 billion yen.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda stepped into the row in June, saying the national government was also thinking about putting in a bid, provoking a frosty response from Beijing.
The Kuriharas insist their ownership of the islands is not political and they do not want to be involved in the dispute.
“It is not about guarding the islands,” Kurihara said. “All that matters to my brother is that he retains his honor as the 17th heir of the Kurihara family.”
© 2012 AFP

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kan - Nuclear Mentality To Blame

The grip of the nuclear lobby in Japan before the Fukushima disaster was akin to that of the military in the run-up to World War II, the prime minister at the time of last year’s catastrophe said Monday.
At a parliamentary inquiry into the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years, Naoto Kan said the lion’s share of the blame for the tsunami-triggered disaster lay with the state for its unquestioning promotion of nuclear power.
“The nuclear accident was caused by a nuclear plant which operated as national policy,” Kan said.
“I believe the biggest portion of blame lies with the state,” said the former premier, who has come out strongly against the technology since the Fukushima disaster in March last year.
But, he said, the “nuclear village”—a term critics often use to refer to the pro-atomic lobby of academics and power companies—had blinded the government in a way analogous to the rise of the powerful military elite that led Japan into the vicious colonialism that precipitated World War II.
“Before the war, the military came to have a grip on actual political power… Similarly, plant operator TEPCO and FEPC (Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan) held sway over the nation’s nuclear administration over the past 40 years,” Kan said.
“They ousted experts, politicians and bureaucrats critical of nuclear energy from the mainstream. Many others they sidelined so that they could maintain the status quo.”
Kan, who stepped down in September after just 15 months in charge, said the only way to ensure that a disaster like Fukushima did not happen again was for Japan to abandon nuclear technology.
Kan’s appearance, like that of many former ministers called to give evidence before the panel, was an opportunity for the ex-premier to give a detailed public account of his actions in the days and weeks after the tsunami struck.
Kan came in for intense criticism for creating a distraction when he visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant the day after the waves hit, as emergency workers were grappling with what would become full-blown meltdowns.
His administration was also lambasted for providing too little information to the public, apparently withholding computer models that showed how radiation from the venting reactors might spread.
Tens of thousands of people were later evacuated from an area around the plant after it began spewing radiation. Many have still not been allowed home, with some areas expected to be uninhabitable for decades.
TEPCO, one of the world’s largest utilities, whose tentacles of influence reach well inside Japan’s huge government bureaucracy, has also been criticised for ignoring warnings about the potential dangers from quake-generated tsunamis.
At the hearing Monday, Kan attacked the company for its failure to keep the government informed about the accident.
“I was thinking it was a battle against an invisible enemy,” he told the hearing.
Kan’s public testimony came after a private panel probing the accident said in February the former premier’s aggressive involvement had averted a worse crisis.
That panel said it was Kan who ordered TEPCO, which refused to co-operate with the February study, to keep men on site.
Experts concluded that if the premier had not stuck to his guns, Fukushima would have spiralled further out of control, with catastrophic consequences.
Kan’s then-top government spokesman, Yukio Edano, testified on Sunday.
Asked about Kan’s visit to the Fukushima plant, Edano said the prime minister had gone to the site because the industry watchdog Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and TEPCO had seemingly “backtracked and wavered.”
“We had this awareness that someone who is more important than a vice industry minister (who was already at the scene) should go and take hold of the situation,” Edano said.
© 2012 AFP

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fujimura Admits to Hatoyama Mistakes

By Daniel Rea

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura acknowledged Tuesday that the policy of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatomaya's administration concerning the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture was inconsistent.

Hartoyama's administration found no consistent policy during his 9 month tenure as Japanese Prime Minister from September 2009 to May 2010. 

Hatoyama first hinted that the 2000 Forces Agreement between the US and Japan would have to be totally scrapped. Then in November 2009 after US Sec of State Hillary Clinton talked to he Japanese counterpart Hatoyama then insisted that the US Marines in Okinawa would be allowed a four year transition period. After February 2010, Hatoyama again vacillated saying that US Marines would be allowed to half their forces with an expansion at Camps Schwab and Courtney.

"It's a fact that there were discussions at one point within the Cabinet on whether the U.S. base should be relocated within or outside the prefecture," Fujimura said at a press conference.

He said the government confused residents in the prefecture.

Fujimura stressed that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's administration has been consistent in its relocation policy and is following proper procedures on the issue.

Hatoyama resigned as PM in May 2010 due in large part to his DPJ losing confidence in his leadership, with Okinawa being a large reason for their loss of trust in Hatoyama and his cabinet advisors. Japan has had 7 PMs in the last 6 years.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Al Qaeda Plot Busted

The FBI is investigating an explosive device that could have been used by a suicide bomber on an airliner, and which was seized when the United States and its partners thwarted a plot believed linked to al Qaeda, U.S. officials said on Monday.

They said no plane was actually at risk.

They said the device was a redesigned model of the bomb used by the so-called "underwear bomber", who failed to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. That plot originated in Yemen.
President Barack Obama was first informed about the latest plot in April and has received regular updates, Caitlin Hayden, deputy National Security Council spokeswoman, said.  "This device has the hallmarks of previous AQAP bombing attempts," a counter-terrorism official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"The plot was disrupted well before it threatened American or U.S. allies, the official said, adding that no airliner had been at risk from this device.

The FBI said it was in possession of the device and was conducting technical and forensic analysis on it.