Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Japan To Privatize Postal Service

Marking a moment of triumph for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the once-divisive postal privatization bills easily passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday by a wide margin of 200 votes.
The package of six bills to dissolve Japan Post and in its place create four private companies by October 2017 was approved in the lower house plenary session by 338-138 votes, as members of the Liberal Democratic Party - joined by most of those who were expelled after opposing the bills - voted for the bills along with coalition partner New Komeito. It was a far cry from the scene on July 5, when the bills - virtually the same as those - passed Tuesday - scraped through the chamber by a mere five votes, 233-228, with 37 LDP members voting against and 14 either abstaining or absent. The bills were put on ice on Aug. 8 when the House of Councillors voted against them 125-108. Koizumi responded by dissolving the lower house and won a landslide in the Sept. 11 poll to claim a mandate for legislation he has made the focus of his administration. Koizumi was all smiles Tuesday in his seat in the plenary session hall as Speaker Yohei Kono declared the bills' passage. He stood up, bowed to the chamber and immediately left the hall without voting for other bills on the agenda. Deliberations on the postal bills are scheduled to begin in the upper house Wednesday and the bills are expected to be passed as early as Friday. Their finalization will conclude this summer's political drama, directed by and starring Koizumi, whose most controversial departure from conventional political scriptwriting was the dispatch of so-called assassins to unseat LDP lawmakers opposing the postal bills. With the bills' passage Tuesday all but certain, all eyes were on the 13 ex-LDP lawmakers stuck out in the political wilderness as independents after surviving Koizumi's attempts to unseat them. Of them - former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma - was a notable opponent of the bills, casting a blue chip in the open ballot. But most others changed their minds and cast white wooden chips approving the bills. One of the better-known postal rebels, former Posts and Telecommunications Minister Seiko Noda, followed up a previous commitment to vote with the government with a white chip Tuesday. "I'd like to admit that my opposition to the bills was completely defeated (as a result of the Sept. 11 election)," Noda said Sunday in her Gifu constituency. Noda, who was long considered a candidate to become Japan's first female prime minister, is desperately seeking Koizumi's forgiveness so she can return to the LDP fold. Former lower house Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki and his fellow postal rebels - who launched two spin-off parties after leaving the LDP - voted against both the government-sponsored postal bills and counter bills sponsored by the Democratic Party of Japan. The DPJ bills, as expected, were rejected earlier Tuesday in the plenary session in a standing vote. Members of the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party voted against both the government's and the DPJ's postal bills. The upper house is expected to rubber stamp Tuesday's lower house result as most LDP members who voted against the bills on Aug. 8 have announced their intention to support the government.