Japan's opposition-led upper house of parliament yesterday voted down government appointments for the first time in 56 years, signaling confrontation amid a row over supporting the US-led "war on terror."
The act of defiance came just one day after the upper house, which the opposition took over in landmark July elections, was sent a bill to resume the military mission supporting the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is pushing the upper house to compromise and restart the naval mission, which provided fuel to coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. It was suspended this month owing to the legislative deadlock.
The failed government-nominated appointments highlighted the political paralysis in Tokyo as Fukuda prepares to head this week to the US, Japan's main ally, on his first foreign trip as premier.
The upper house of the divided parliament refused to endorse three of 28 nominees for government posts over objections from the opposition, a parliamentary official said.
It is the first time since 1951 that parliament failed to endorse government nominations, he said.
Fukuda's Liberal Democratic Party has been in power for all but 10 months since its founding in 1955.
The opposition won the last elections amid voter anger over scandals under Fukuda's predecessor Shinzo Abe, who quit in September, citing in part the opposition's refusal to support the "war on terror."
The three nominees rejected yesterday were former senior bureaucrats whom the ruling bloc had wanted to reappoint as members of government councils related to the ministry or government agencies where they used to work.
The opposition argued the appointments would be a form of amakudari -- or descent from heaven -- Japan's controversial practice of former bureaucrats landing cushy jobs after retirement in the fields they once served.
"We were able to put the brakes on excessive amakudari," Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters.
Chief government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura demanded a clearer explanation from the opposition, saying it would be "against equality under law" if nominees were turned down only because they were former bureaucrats.
Machimura said the government needed to tread carefully in the divided parliament.
"We presented the nominations in the belief the three are the best. As we will not be able to find replacements instantly, we want to cautiously look at our next step," he told reporters.
One of the rejected nominees was Masakazu Nagao, a former transport ministry bureaucrat who has served since 2004 on a council advising on transport fares. The government wanted to reappoint him to the council for another three years.
If confirmed, he would have earned ?17.97 million (US$162,000) a year and also received a "retirement" allowance of ?3.74 million for finishing the previous three-year term, the Asahi Shimbun said.
The lower house can override the upper house on ordinary bills, but both chambers must approve nominations for 36 government bodies.
The move fueled speculation that the opposition may also flex its muscle when the government nominates a replacement for Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui after his five-year term ends in March.