The ruling Liberal Democratic Party overrode an opposition boycott Friday to ensure final enactment of Japan's budget by May 28, raising confrontation in Parliament to a new peak.
At the same time, the prospects for swift selection of a successor to outgoing Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita grew more clouded as the consensus choice, Masayoshi Ito, chairman of the party's Executive Board, called a news conference to reiterate his refusal to take the job.
The ruling conservatives rammed the budget for the 1989 fiscal year that began April 1 through the House of Representatives, fixing May 28 or shortly thereafter as a deadline for Takeshita to submit an official resignation. The prime minister repeated Friday his Tuesday declaration that he would resign after the budget is enacted because of his implication in the Recruit Co. influence-peddling scandal.
Although the budget was sent to the House of Councilors, a constitutional provision ensures that it will go into effect automatically 30 days from now even without a vote in the ceremonial upper house.
It was the first time that the lower house had ever passed the budget without any opposition party members attending.
Struggling through mobs of shouting opposition members who tried unsuccessfully to block his passage, Speaker Kenzaburo Hara made his way to the main chamber of the lower house with the help of parliamentary guards. After a pro forma 12-minute committee report, 281 representatives voted for the budget.
One unaffiliated member cast a negative vote and another unaffiliated member voted for the budget. Three ruling party members said they stayed away to express their disapproval of the unilateral action and 13 other members were also absent. The ruling party holds 296 seats in the 512-member chamber.
Opposition leaders charged that the unilateral vote was designed to cover up details of the scandal focused on Recruit, an information and real estate conglomerate accused of trying to buy influence with political contributions and stock profits.
Takeshita, who received $1.12 million in stock profits and contributions from the firm, said he was resigning to assume responsibility for the scandal. Opposition parties, however, continued to insist that former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone be forced to testify under oath about profits his aides made from insider trading in stocks of a Recruit subsidiary.
Takeshita's decision to assume responsibility for the scandal represented the limit of concessions that the ruling party was willing to offer the opposition to end its eight-week boycott, conservative leaders said.
Takako Doi, chairwoman of the Socialist Party, the main opposition party, said it would "continue fighting until the lower house is dissolved for a general election."
Socialist Shinnen Tagaya, deputy speaker of the lower house, resigned the chamber's No. 2 post in protest.
Assuming responsibility for the confrontation, Toshio Yamaguchi, the Liberal Democrats' lower house steering committee chairman, also resigned, a lead that Hara, the Speaker, was expected to follow.
Meanwhile, Ito, the man who ruling party leaders, including Takeshita, reportedly had agreed should lead the party and the nation, rejected a request by Shintaro Abe, the Liberal Democrats' secretary general, that he succeed Takeshita.
Ito told reporters after meeting Abe that his "resolve to decline the offer is extremely strong."
"If I became (the leader), it would lead to a situation creating trouble for both the party and the nation," Ito, 75, said in what appeared to be a reference to his health. He suffers from diabetes and reportedly has also developed heart trouble.
"A young person should be chosen to carry out political reforms. I won't do it," he had said earlier.
The former foreign minister also complained about moves to select a new lineup of party and Cabinet officials before the selection of a new party president, who will become prime minister.
Those moves, "although an insult (to the new leader), are not the reason for my refusal," he said Friday. "I said I would decline even before personnel moves began."
Ito said the party also should firm up a commitment to political reform before selecting Takeshita's successor.
Ito and Abe, however, agreed to Takeshita's request for a suspension in selection activity until after Takeshita returns May 7 from a nine-day trip to five Southeast Asian nations. He is to leave this afternoon for his first stop, Bangkok, Thailand.
Analysts remained divided over whether Ito will ultimately reject a formal request, which would come from Takeshita himself. But they noted that Ito, who has a reputation for standing by his word, has repeated his disavowals for four straight days.
If Ito sticks to his refusal, the ruling party faces a succession crisis. All of its major leaders have been tainted by the Recruit scandal, and the only other untainted "dark horse" available, Masaharu Gotoda, is reported to be unpopular among fellow conservatives.
Gotoda also has rejected suggestions that he replace Takeshita.