February 23, 2011 / 1:42 PM / 9 years ago

Pressure on Japan PM grows as MP leaves govt post

TOKYO (Reuters) - A member of parliament from Japan’s ruling party has resigned from a government post, media said on Wednesday, adding to Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s woes as he faces pressure to quit and struggles to enact a workable budget in parliament.

Kan, whose ratings have sunk to about 20 percent, faces a widening rift in his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and is battling to pass bills to implement a $1 trillion (616 billion pounds) budget for the year from April 1 after opposition parties refused to help.

Kenko Matsuki, a parliamentary secretary in the Farm Ministry and a backer of indicted powerbroker Ichiro Ozawa, said he is unhappy with Kan’s policy shifts such as a push for tax reforms including a possible rise in the 5 percent sales tax, public broadcaster NHK reported.

A representative at Matsuki’s office in Tokyo could not be reached immediately for comment.

Japan’s political stalemate is clouding its sovereign credit ratings. Moody’s Investors Service warned this week that it may cut Japan’s rating if policies fall short of the tax reform needed to curb massive public debt at double the size of Japan’s $5 trillion economy.

Kan, Japan’s fifth premier since 2006, has made tax and social welfare reform a top priority.

But opposition parties intent on forcing a snap election less than two years after his DPJ swept to power have refused to join in non-partisan talks on the topics.


DPJ executives decided on Tuesday to suspend the party membership of Ozawa, a former party leader who helped to engineer its leap to power in 2009, until his trial over suspected misreporting by his funding organisation is over.

Ozawa has denied wrongdoing, and the party’s move has upset Matsuki and other Ozawa allies.

Last week, 16 Ozawa allies, upset over Kan’s shift to a policy of fiscal reform, said they would leave the DPJ’s lower house caucus and might vote against the budget bills, while earlier on Wednesday a former minister in the DPJ who has sharply criticised Kan’s government set up a new policy group.

Matsuki’s move was unlikely to have big impact immediately, in part because there is no clear successor to Kan.

“There has already been the move by the 16 (rebels) so this doesn’t really change the situation drastically,” said Tomoaki Iwai, a professor at Nihon University.

“Kan is under pressure to quit, but it isn’t clear what would happen next ... Kan will try to hang on.”

Kazuhiro Haraguchi, a former internal affairs minister who started the new policy group, may be hoping to replace Kan but some analysts questioned whether his candidacy would be viable.

More than 80 lawmakers and their aides attended the meeting, where Haraguchi called for more autonomy for regional areas and hinted at tie-ups with charismatic mayors and governors.

In addition to the pressure from his own party, Kan is facing a deadlock in passing budget bills.

The budget can be enacted by parliament’s lower house alone, which is controlled by the DPJ. But to enact enabling laws, the government must either cobble together a simple majority in the upper house or build a two-thirds majority in the lower chamber, which would allow it to override the opposition-controlled upper chamber.

Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel

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