Japan’s upper house of parliament approved an unprecedented no-confidence motion against embattled prime minister Yasuo Fukuda today.
The vote will embarrass his troubled government but will not pose an immediate threat to his tenure.
The 131-105 vote in the opposition-controlled house was the first time a chamber of parliament has approved such a measure in Japanese post-war history.
The motion is certain to die in the ruling party-dominated lower house.
In a counter-move, Mr Fukuda’s ruling coalition immediately submitted a confidence motion in the lower house, where his Liberal Democratic Party has a powerful two-thirds majority.
The motion was the latest in a series of steps by the opposition to use its clout in the upper house – won in elections last summer – to harass Mr Fukuda’s government and force him to call lower house elections.
Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ’s secretary general, said Mr Fukuda – whose support ratings have fallen to 20% according to polls – was ruling without the consent of the voters.
The last election for the lower house was in 2005 under the vastly more popular prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.
The government dismissed the measure as posturing by the opposition.
Chief cabinet secretary Nobutaka Machimura said: “I don’t think it has any real meaning beyond being a sort of political performance.”
The opposition has consistently attempted to block high-profile legislation in the upper house, forcing Mr Fukuda’s ruling coalition to pass bills with a two-thirds majority vote in the more powerful lower house.
Last year, the split in parliament forced Japan to withdraw its ships from the Indian Ocean, where they were supporting US-led troops in Afghanistan. The US is Japan’s top ally, and Tokyo later managed to pass a scaled-down version of the mission.
The opposition also blocked two of Mr Fukuda’s nominees to head the central bank in March, leaving Japan’s economy without one of its key leaders at a time of global financial uncertainty.