Upper house passes censure against Abe in turbulence before election

The House of Councillors passed an opposition-sponsored censure motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday as Japan's parliament ends its 150-day ordinary session in confusion, ahead of an upper house election next month.

The nonbinding motion, filed by some small opposition parties and garnering 125 votes in favor and 105 against, came after Abe and his Cabinet ministers refused to attend the house's Budget Committee sessions Monday and Tuesday in protest against the handling of the chamber by its president, Kenji Hirata, from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

The ruling coalition led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party filed a no-confidence motion against Hirata, but the move was rejected by the opposition-controlled upper house.

By skipping the committee's sessions, Abe "made light of (the principle of) popular sovereignty," the opposition parties said in filing the motion.

Countering the view, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference, "It is hard to understand the motion," suggesting Abe and his ministers had skipped the session for the right reason.

The ruling bloc had criticized Hirata for not holding deliberations in the upper house on a bill to reform Japan's electoral system, even after receiving it from the House of Representative, which passed it in April.

Opposition parties saw the bill as only partially addressing problems in the system and urged Abe to draw up more comprehensive reform plans, including a sharp reduction in the number of Diet seats.

The revision bill was finally enacted Monday after a vote in the more powerful lower house, where Abe's ruling camp maintains dominance.

Abe became the fourth Japanese premier to have censure motion passed against him in the upper house, following his predecessor Yoshihiko Noda of the DPJ-led government last August.

The motion is legally nonbinding, unlike a no-confidence motion by the lower chamber against the government, which forces the dissolution of the house for a general election or resignation of the Cabinet en masse.

However, the latest motion stung Abe ahead of an upper house election, expected on July 21, in which voters will judge the past months under his administration.

Marking his six months in office, Abe told reporters Wednesday, "I have been making all-out efforts everyday to make progress in the economy, diplomacy and national security."

The smaller parties' efforts to censure Abe gained momentum after the DPJ endorsed the motion in an apparent U-turn.

The DPJ had earlier been reluctant to join the move, citing the need to spend time deliberating in the upper house bills that remain to be voted on the final day of the ordinary session, including a bill that would allow the government to initiate a series of crucial reforms to Japan's power industry.

The conflict in parliament forced parties to scrap a total of six bills, also including those designed to prevent abuse of welfare benefits and to protect domestic aquatic resources from uncontrolled acquisition or development by foreign "water majors."