Japan's opposition stepped up its campaign to delay a bill enabling the dispatch of troops to Iraq yesterday, submitting a no-confidence motion in the Cabinet and insisting it was prepared to force a general election.
The government pledged it would pass the bill before the current parliamentary session ends on Monday and failure to do so would mean a huge loss of face for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, possibly forcing him to call a snap general election -- something analysts doubt the opposition is prepared to risk.
"We will definitely pass the bill in this parliamentary session," said Taku Yamasaki, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which dominates the ruling coalition.
Koizumi is determined to keep his promise to the US to send troops to Iraq despite the fact that a recent poll showed more than half of Japanese voters oppose the move.
Unnerved by mounting US casualties in Iraq, many Japanese are reluctant to see their troops -- who have not fired weapons in combat since the end of World War II -- in danger.
The bill has been approved by the more powerful Lower House, but must also pass the upper chamber before being enacted.
Serious stalling began on Thursday, when some opposition members resorted to the "ox walk" tactic, stepping slowly toward the dais where they cast their ballots on a string of censure motions against Cabinet members in parliament's Upper House.
One opposition member even patted his pockets in an apparent pantomime of having lost his ballot, helping to delay the end of parliamentary business for the day until after midnight.
The maneuvres continued on Friday, with a no-confidence motion against Koizumi's Cabinet submitted to the Lower House. The motion is certain to fail because the ruling coalition has a majority in both houses.
"We are going to spend the day doing our best to make sure the Iraq bill fails," Yoshihiko Noda, an executive with the main opposition Democratic Party, told a news conference.
Asked if his party was ready for an election should the bill fail to pass, Noda said: "That's precisely what we want."
The Democrats agreed earlier this week to merge with a smaller opposition group ahead of an election many expect in November, but analysts say the two groups are not yet prepared for a campaign.
Ruling politicians also dismissed the opposition tactics as pure performance.
"If the opposition parties were really serious, they would have submitted no-confidence and censure motions against every member of the Cabinet," said LDP lawmaker Taro Kono in an e-mail message. "The fact they haven't gone that far means they are faking."