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No-Confidence Motion for Japan Parties

February 4, 2002

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TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s opposition parties submitted a no-confidence motion in Parliament on Monday targeting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s Cabinet, amid a collapse in the leader’s once lofty approval ratings over the dismissal of his charismatic foreign minister.

The motion was not directly linked to last week’s abrupt firing of Makiko Tanaka, but rather accused Koizumi’s agriculture minister of mishandling the nation’s mad cow disease outbreak.

However, Japan’s main opposition parties were clearly sensing their best opportunity yet to unseat Koizumi, whose public approval in the wake of the foreign ministry debacle has tumbled from over 70 percent to under 50 percent according to one newspaper poll.

The motion, which was to go to a vote on Tuesday, was largely symbolic as the ruling coalition has enough votes in Parliament to defeat it.

But coming hours after Koizumi gave his first major policy speech of the year, in which he laid out his vision for economic reform, it showed renewed confidence among an opposition camp that has appeared cowed by Koizumi’s appeal with the electorate.

The prime minister used his speech to try and regroup after the criticism caused by Tanaka’s dismissal, promising to hold steady with painful structural reforms he says are needed to cure Japan’s sick economy.

``With support for my government falling there have been fears that I might backtrack on reform, but my determination to push through reforms will not loosen,″ he said. ``This year is the year of full-scale reform.″

Kyoko Matsumoto, an official of the Democratic Party of Japan, said the no-confidence motion was over the government’s ``mismanagement″ of the mad cow disease outbreak.

The Liberal Party, Communist Party and Social Democratic Party also sponsored the motion, said another Democratic Party official, Kazuo Akiba.

Japan is the only country in Asia with confirmed cases of the disease, which wastes cows’ brains and is believed to be linked to a deadly human variant. Farm Minister Tsutomu Takebe has been accused of lacking a sense of crisis in investigating the root of the outbreak.

Outside of Parliament, Koizumi was facing even tougher battles.

According to a survey in the Asahi, a major nationwide newspaper, support for the reform-minded Koizumi’s Cabinet dropped to 49 percent from 72 percent in a similar survey it conducted last month.

It was the lowest approval rating for Koizumi in an Asahi poll since he took office.

Another major daily, the Mainichi, said Koizumi’s approval rate fell to 53 percent, a drop of 24 percentage points from January.

Both papers said the decline was clearly the result of Koizumi’s decision to sack Tanaka. The first woman to become foreign minister, Tanaka had won a large following with voters for her straight-talking style and promises to clean up corruption in government.

Koizumi dismissed Tanaka last week because of a widely publicized dispute she had with ministry officials and a powerful ruling party lawmaker stemming from last month’s international aid conference for Afghanistan held here.

Koizumi’s support ratings had remained above 70 percent since he took office in April despite Japan’s stagnant economy. His popularity was boosted by Tanaka’s populist manner.

Tanaka was harshly criticized by ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers for canceling meetings with visiting diplomats, publicly insulting her aides and fighting with bureaucrats.

On Saturday, the Yomiuri newspaper, Japan’s largest-circulation daily, found public support for Koizumi’s Cabinet plunged to 46.9 percent from 77.8 percent.

The Asahi’s telephone survey of 2,414 eligible voters was conducted Saturday and Sunday. A total of 1,129 voters responded to the Mainichi poll, also taken by telephone Saturday and Sunday.

No margin of error was provided for any of the polls.

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