Japan PM survives confidence vote

Japan's prime minister survived a no-confidence motion on Thursday after reaching an 11th hour deal with a major opposition party over his much-cherished sales tax bill.

Yoshihiko Noda brushed off the attack by a phalanx of minor parties, including former rebels from his own disintegrating bloc, which comes ahead of an expected vote Friday on his plan to double consumption tax.

The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party had, in recent days, begun to renege on its promise to back the legislation, which independent commentators say is a good first step on the long road to overhauling Japan's huge debt pile, worth twice its GDP.

But after exacting a somewhat vague promise from the premier that he would hold a general election "in the near future", the LDP -- who are expected to be the main beneficiaries of his sliding popularity -- indicated they would not support the move.

The motion of no-confidence was defeated by a majority of around three-to-one. Broadcaster NHK reported that many LDP lawmakers stayed away from the session.

Analysts say the politically unpopular tax hike and the deals Noda has had to strike to give it a fighting parliamentary chance are likely to further shorten the life of his relatively young administration.

But in a country that has seen six new premiers in as many years, getting something tangible on the statute book is a major achievement likely to cement his place in history, they said.

With rebellions coming thick and fast from his own fractious party and no majority in the upper house, Noda had to offer his conservative opponents an electoral carrot for the bill, which will also overhaul Japan's precariously balanced social security system.

But members of the governing Democratic Party of Japan are keen to avoid polls before absolutely necessary because of the risk of them being unseated, said Tetsuro Kato, professor of politics at Hitotsubashi University.

"A movement to oust Noda from the premier's post may begin and his re-election in the party presidential vote in September is now doubtful," he said.

"Sure, the tax hike is an important issue in the context of the global environment where Europe is suffering from a sovereign debt crisis, and so Noda would earn his name in history.

"But with a political crisis just postponed after the agreement with the opposition, Noda's government is destined to be as short-lived as his predecessors' were," Kato said.

The bill to increase consumption tax from five to 10 percent by 2015 passed the powerful lower house in June with support from the LDP and their junior opposition partner New Komeito, despite a DPJ rebellion.

It is now expected to go to a vote in the upper house on Friday.

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