Citizens, LDP may forge compromise on disaster relief bill

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KOBE — Plans to formulate a disaster relief bill are running out of time. With only about two months before the close of the current Diet session, it is likely that a citizens-backed bill will have to be combined with a Liberal Democratic Party proposal to enable the legislature to forge a law on the issue before the Upper House election in July, according to leaders of a citizens’ group.

Such was the message delivered to nearly 60 people who gathered last Saturday for a symposium and update on efforts by the group to have a comprehensive natural disaster relief bill passed by the Diet. Led by noted author Makoto Oda and local activist Ayako Nakajima, the group, in conjunction with some Diet members, has been pushing for legislation that would provide financial assistance to both survivors of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and of future disasters.

Last June, following lobbying efforts by the group, the Diet agreed to start discussing the issue in a special committee.

Meanwhile, the ruling LDP has been working on its own disaster aid bill. However, the LDP proposal offers smaller amounts of compensation to future disaster victims and does not include payments to survivors of the 1995 quake. The ruling party is indicating the possibility of a special one-off payment to the quake survivors that would be separate from the proposed bill.

At Saturday’s meeting, Oda and Nakajima briefed attendees on lobbying efforts over the past month. In March, a group of representatives met with lawmakers who included Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party, and Takako Doi, head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as many of the 72 Upper House and 48 Lower House members who have given the group verbal support.

The current 150-day Diet session is due to end in June. Group leaders say that unless some kind of workable compromise is reached with the LDP by the beginning of May, the current momentum for the legislation will probably die out. “The issue has to be settled during this session. After the Upper House election in July, there will be many changes and it’s not likely we’ll get the support we need,” said Yoshiki Yamashita, an Upper House member from the Japanese Communist Party who has been supporting the citizens’ efforts.