Amid pushing and shoving, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday rammed its budget bill through the Finance Committee of the lower house of Parliament.
The move touched off opposition calls for Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to resign and the first signs of rebellion in his party.
Members of factions headed by Shintaro Abe, chairman of the party's General Affairs Council, and by Toshio Komoto, a former state minister, spoke out against committee approval of the budget without some compromise on a controversial proposal for a 5% sales tax.
Nevertheless, Abe, who is regarded as one of three potential successors to Nakasone, supported the budget.
The vote, with shouting lawmakers shoving one another, came after more than two months of boycotts and other stalling tactics by opposition parties. The opposition sought to force Nakasone to withdraw his proposal, which calls for an income tax reduction, imposition of the sales tax and an end to tax exemptions on savings.
Before Nakasone Trip
Ruling party leaders said the 54.1-trillion-yen ($383.7-billion) budget must be approved before Nakasone's planned visit to Washington from April 29 to May 2. Without it, they said, no decisions can be made on a supplementary budget that the party has said it will seek this fall in order to spur domestic growth and promote imports.
Committee passage cleared the way for consideration by the full house, where action is expected sometime between Friday and Tuesday.
Lower house approval by Tuesday will ensure that the budget becomes effective no later than May 21, a day after funds run out under an interim budget covering the first 50 days of the fiscal year. Budget approval becomes final within 30 days of passage by the lower house even if the upper house takes no action.
Offers Olive Branch
Noboru Takeshita, secretary general of the ruling party, issued a special statement offering an olive branch to the opposition. He said that committee passage of the budget "does not imply implementation of the sales tax."
"The sales tax," Takeshita said, "should be fully and carefully debated in the Finance Committee. Our party intends to continue efforts to create a consensus on the form of our tax system looking forward to the 21st Century while lending an ear humbly to the voice of the people."
The statement was taken to mean that the ruling party might offer to shelve the tax proposal at the present session of Parliament in exchange for an agreement from most of the five opposition parties to resume debate on the budget and other bills.
Sales Tax Delay
Takeshita acknowledged indirectly that whatever happens to the controversial proposal, implementation of the sales tax is certain to be postponed beyond Jan. 1, the date for which it has been proposed.
All the opposition leaders condemned the ruling party and demanded that Kenzaburo Hara, speaker of the lower house, send the bill back to the committee. They threatened to use every form of parliamentary obstructionism, including motions of no confidence directed at each of the 20 members of Nakasone's Cabinet, if the ruling party convenes a plenary session.
Warned that the Liberal Democrats planned the budget action, opposition lawmakers crowded around the chair of Finance Committee Chairman Shigetami Sunada and attempted to prevent his being seated.
While Parliament guards formed a circle around Sunada, ruling party lawmakers seized opposition members and pulled and pushed at them. Opposition lawmakers shoved back.
One ruling party member's clothing was torn, but no punches were thrown and no injuries were reported.
Sunada started to call for a vote using a microphone, but an opposition lawmaker tore away the cord. The chairman then cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted for a standing vote in the midst of the din.
With all members of the committee standing in the melee, he declared the bill approved. Escorted by guards, he left the room.
The incident was seen on television throughout the country. It was only the third time since World War II that the ruling party had acted unilaterally to push the budget through the Finance Committee.
Says Voters' Will Flouted
Takako Doi, Socialist Party chairman, said the action "trampled on" the will of the voters as expressed in local elections last Sunday. In the campaign, all opposition candidates, as well as most Liberal Democrats, spoke out against the sales tax. No candidate openly supported the proposal.
"This is democracy disintegrating," Doi said.
Junya Yano, chairman of the middle-of-the-road, neo-Buddhist Komei (Clean Government) Party, said that "a lame duck Cabinet has just dug its own grave."
Nakasone's term as president of the ruling party, a post that is by tradition a prerequisite to being prime minister, will expire Oct. 30.
Doi, Yano and other opposition leaders ruled out any compromise. They demanded complete withdrawal of the sales tax proposal, as well as the proposal to eliminate tax exemptions on savings, and a rewriting of the budget.
Nakasone said the opposition's refusal to cooperate made the unilateral action unavoidable in view of the need "to protect the people's livelihood and to cope with the appreciation of the yen's value."