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Japan's opposition on attack

JAPAN'S ruling party defeated a no-confidence motion against the prime minister's Cabinet yesterday, but an increasingly bold opposition used the occasion to heap criticism on the government it aims to oust in national elections next month.

The powerful lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, easily voted down the motion, 333 to 139.

The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposing parties submitted the motion to create a forum to criticize Prime Minister Taro Aso's government, which is reeling from a ruling party loss at the weekend in Tokyo municipal elections seen as a barometer of voter sentiment.

After the results were released on Monday, Aso said he would dissolve parliament next week and call general elections for August 30. The leader of the party that wins will almost certainly become Japan's next prime minister.

A censure motion against Aso, with little purpose other than to embarrass him, passed the upper house later yesterday afternoon. The upper house, the weaker of the two, is under the control of the opposition.

In a raucous session by the lower house of parliament, Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the opposing Democrats, gave a wide-ranging criticism of Japan's current leadership.

"Prime Minister Aso has only clung to his post. The employment situation has worsened as he repeated pork-barrel handouts in obvious vote-buying, none of which has helped to improve the lives of the people," Hatoyama said.

Political maneuvering has intensified since Aso's ruling party was routed by Hatoyama's Democrats in the municipal elections.

The Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan for the past five decades, except a brief period in 1993, have been struggling to maintain their grip on power.

Recent newspaper opinion polls suggest the opposition party is well-placed to make considerable gains, and put Hatoyama ahead of Aso as the people's choice as prime minister.


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