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Machimura mulling bill-consultation bodies with opposition

by Hiroko Nakata

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition should create consultation bodies with the opposition camp, which now has a majority in the House of Councilors, to seek its opinion on important bills before any final decisions are reached, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.

The suggestion highlights the clear change in the Diet’s balance of power after the Democratic Party of Japan won a landslide in the Upper House election in July, as a result of which the opposition can now block any bills by the ruling bloc in the upper chamber.

In the past, the ruling coalition submitted bills with little heed for the opposition.

“I believe the ruling party and opposition parties . . . should set up consultation bodies on several important topics and have positive discussions,” Machimura said in a recent interview.

The most urgent case concerns the antiterrorism law, under which Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels provide fuel and other support in the Indian Ocean for antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan. The LDP aims to continue the mission that it argues is highly valued by the international community, but the DPJ strongly opposes it on grounds that it is against the pacifist Constitution.

Machimura said the ruling coalition will explain the crucial points of the law to the opposition parties by Friday.

Other possible topics to be discussed include social welfare, political funds and education, he said.

The ruling coalition will meanwhile slash the number of panels under the prime minister that had sharply increased during the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who introduced them in an attempt to take the initiative in making policies.

The number of such panels currently stands at 92, with themes ranging from administrative reform to crisis management.

“Before setting up new panels (under Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda), we need to rationalize them,” Machimura said.

Internal affairs minister Hiroya Masuda, who is overseeing local government policies, already decided to combine four committees related to the revival of rural areas into one.

Machimura also said there is no way to avoid discussion on hiking the 5 percent consumption tax, as it is a reliable source of future revenue.

“In the long term, raising the consumption tax will be an issue we can’t avoid,” he said.