"The Fukuda cabinet must take this seriously," Yukio Hatoyama, the Democratic Party's secretary-general, said.
Ichiro Ozawa, the opposition leader, said that the motion was a call for the resignation of Fukuda's cabinet.
"Voters now will not permit the current government to stay in office without calling a snap election," he said.
But Fukuda said he had no plans to call a general election and denounced the opposition move, saying: "I may be the victim who suffers the most, but voters are suffering more than me."
The censure targeted Fukuda for, among other things, the alleged mishandling of the revival of an unpopular petrol tax and bungling of public pension records as well as the unpopular medical insurance scheme that has meant some people aged 75 and over pay more.
|"Voters now will not permit the current government to stay in office without calling a snap election" |
Ichiro Ozawa, opposition leader
The system has outraged many elderly voters, long a core constituency for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and the Democratic Party wants it abolished.
The opposition controls the parliament's upper house and has already delayed legislation and blocked key appointments, including the government's first two choices for Bank of Japan governor.
Despite dismal approval ratings, Fukuda has continued to pursue his party's agenda ahead of the July 7-9 G8 summit, including announcing a plan this week to start Japan's first mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions.
"Technically, this is just symbolic, but it becomes more than symbolic because it's ahead of the G8 summit," said Hidekazu Kawai, a professor of politics at Gakushuin University in Tokyo.
"When Fukuda hosts the summit, he will carry the label as a leader slapped with a censure motion," Kawai said.
The ruling coalition, which controls the parliament's more powerful lower house, quickly submitted a rival confidence motion in the government which it expected to pass as early as Thursday.
Most opposition lawmakers said they would boycott parliament in the wake of the censure motion, further stalling legislative proceedings.
"This is nothing more than a political performance," Nobutaka Machimura, the chief government spokesman, said of the censure motion.
"I don't quite understand what they mean to do."
Ruling bloc legislators are reluctant to risk an election that could well see them lose a two-thirds majority in the lower house that allows them to override most upper house vetoes.
While many Japanese voters would be happy to see the LDP lose its grip on power, they also have doubts about whether the Democratic Party, are ready to take the reins.