CONTENTIOUS BILLS DIVISIVE

Diet session no cakewalk for majority coalition

by Reiji Yoshida

When the 2006 ordinary Diet session kicks off Friday, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling alliance will face several battles to reach its goals — from within the coalition.

Despite their landslide victory in the Sept. 11 general election, which gave the bloc two-thirds of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives, the public is still promised an eventful session, according to political insiders.

The problems stem from contentious bills the ruling coalition is preparing to submit during the session.

The Diet also will be a battleground for contenders in the fall LDP presidential election, the winner of which is expected to become the next prime minister, succeeding Junichiro Koizumi.

Some politicians “may raise their hands (to show their intent to run for the presidency) around the time the budget is enacted,” one LDP executive said. The budget typically is finalized at the end of the fiscal year in March.

Politicians in the ruling bloc, Cabinet ministers in particular, start making political moves after the budget is passed.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, already one of the leading contenders for the post, said people will wait to throw their hats into the leadership ring.

“I think (likely contenders), including people other than me, will start talking about (the presidential race) after the Diet session ends,” Abe said on a TV talk show Sunday. The 150-day session will end in June.

Koizumi’s main agenda for the ordinary session appears to be to create a strong foundation to ensure his successor will follow his “small government” policy of a more austere fiscal budget and downsizing of government through consolidation and job cuts.

To this end, the government is planning to submit an administrative reform promotion bill in March. It outlines the basic principles of the Koizumi plan and gives a timetable for several of the administrative reforms.

The bill will include consolidation of state-backed financial institutions and special government budgets and 5 percent job cuts in the civil service.

Koizumi will have a tough time getting support in the ruling bloc for all of his plans, particularly bills to include a reference to promoting patriotism in the Law of Fundamental Education and to upgrade the Defense Agency to a ministry.

In addition, a bill to allow females and their descendants to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne, which would terminate the centuries-old tradition of succession through the male line, will also spark debate.

“I don’t think the (female succession) bill is such an urgent issue that we should take it up in the ordinary session,” LDP Executive Council Chairman Fumio Kyuma was quoted in the media as saying Jan. 13, echoing the views of conservative LDP politicians.

There have been eight reigning empresses in history, but their successors were always chosen from the male line. Since 1889, the Imperial House Law has limited succession to only male descendents. This included male children born of concubines, but that system was abolished after World War II.

No males have been born into the Imperial family in the past four decades, and concern has been growing that the Imperial line may be in jeopardy.

The Japanese Conference, an association of about 240 conservative politicians, mainly from the LDP, adopted a resolution at a meeting in November to oppose female succession.

Chairman Takeo Hiranuma, an independent in the Lower House, has said he will draw up a bill to keep succession to males from the male line.

Another contentious issue is a bill to include an article promoting patriotism in the education law that New Komeito is reluctant to support.

New Komeito fears a revival of the kind of fevered patriotism that led the country into military aggression in the early 20th century, while LDP conservatives say they only seek to nurture people’s respect for their country.

Negotiations between the LDP and New Komeito on how to word the bill have been in stalemate for six months.

To break the deadlock, the LDP has been forced to try to get back expelled LDP member Kosuke Hori, who chaired the patriotism bill talks until he was forced out of the party for his opposition to the postal system privatization. The LDP wants the former education minister on their side, pushing for its wording in the bill, because of the good working relationship he formed with New Komeito when he was chairman.

“Things like this often happens in politics. It’s on a case-by-case basis,” Koizumi told reporters Monday, when asked why he is now asking for help from someone he kicked out of his party.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force in the Lower House, plans to focus on what it is calling everyday safety issues during the session, including the prevention of crimes against children and the safety of high-rise housing, now that the nation is still trying to sort out the extent of the widening scandal over shoddy construction of hotels and condominium complexes with fabricated quake-proofing designs.

However, pushing its agenda in the Lower House will be difficult due to the strong majority the ruling coalition wields.

The DPJ may draw more attention to its internal battles than those in the Diet.

DPJ President Seiji Maehara has pledged to unify the party’s basic stance on security issues, the most divisive topic in the party, which is a mix of lawmakers from the right and the left.

He has said he will step down if he cannot gain a show of solidarity on the security stance by the end of June.