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Commentary: 116 hours of Diet debate fail to deepen understanding on security bills

  • 2015-07-16 15:00:00
  • , Yomiuri
  • Translation

(Yomiuri: July 16, 2015 – p. 3)


 By political reporters Yoshifumi Sugita, Yuji Okabe


 The ruling parties alone passed the security bills at the House of Representatives special committee on the peace and security-related bills (chaired by Yasukazu Hamada) on July 15. A total of 116 hours and 30 minutes was spent deliberating the bills, far above the 80 hours originally contemplated by the ruling parties. The bills are extremely complicated and the opposition focused only on criticizing the government. This resulted in very little substantial debate on security.


 Hamada declared the passage of the bills shortly after noon on July 15, with members from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and other parties crowding around the chairman’s seat and shouting “hantai [objection].”


 The revision of the constitutional interpretation of the right to collective self-defense has been the long-cherished dream of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since his first cabinet in 2006. The government and the ruling parties extended the Diet session for a record 95 days to make sure the security bills will be passed.


 However, to Abe’s advocacy of the need for legislation in light of changes in the international environment, the DPJ persisted in questioning Abe’s conservative view of history and making provocative assertions such as “the Self-Defense Forces will be embroiled in war.” The two sides talked at cross purposes. In the closing interpellation on July 15, the DPJ’s deputy leader Akira Nagatsuma asked Abe repeatedly: “Do you think the past war was a mistake?” The Prime Minister did not address the question directly; he simply retorted: “With major changes taking place in the international situation, will we really be able to protect the people without making any changes? Mr. Nagatsuma, you must not evade that responsibility.”


 There had also been a number of unexpected developments. All three constitution scholars, including one endorsed by the LDP, stated that the bills are “unconstitutional” at the Lower House Commission on the Constitution on June 4. In late June, participants in a study meeting of conservative LDP Diet members called for pressuring media organizations. This aggravated negative public opinion on the bills.


 Even members of the ruling parties, which control an overwhelming majority in the special committee, began to have doubts about passing the bills without the opposition’s participation. The ruling bloc went on to engage the Japan Innovation Party (JIP), which submitted counterproposals to the security bills, in discussions to revise the bills, in the hope of securing the JIP’s participation in the vote on the bills, even if it was opposed to them. Although the JIP agreed to engage in discussions, it demanded that the vote at the committee should not take place before late July.


 However, the effective deadline for the Lower House to pass the bills would be July 24, under the “60-day rule” of Article 59 of the Constitution, to give the ruling parties time to pass the bills with a second vote if the House of Councillors fails to vote on them. If talks with the JIP had continued without being able to narrow the gap between the JIP’s and the government’s proposals, this might have resulted in lack of time for Upper House deliberations.


 The ruling parties eventually decided to vote on the bills since there was no guarantee that discussions with the JIP up to the last minute would help boost support for them and there was also concern about impact on the cabinet support rating. Even the Prime Minister’s office [theKantei], which had tried to approach JIP supreme adviser Toru Hashimoto, decided to go ahead with the vote.


 An aide to Abe expressed regret on July 15 that time ran out for discussions with the JIP. He said: “There are probably different views (in the JIP).” Even the Prime Minister lamented at the final interpellation before the vote on July 15 that “unfortunately, the people’s understanding has not deepened.” (Slightly abridged)

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