Ruling bloc’s MSDF bill is given to Diet

Race begins to continue refueling

by Masami Ito and Hiroko Nakata

The ruling coalition Wednesday submitted to a divided Diet a special bill to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue providing logistic support in the Indian Ocean for U.S.-led antiterror operations in and around Afghanistan.

The Cabinet-approved special antiterrorism bill, which Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda wants passed in the current extraordinary Diet session, was first OK’d by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition earlier in the day.

“I hope the new law will be enacted as soon as possible because this mission is in cooperation with the international community,” Fukuda told reporters after the Cabinet approved the bill.

The ruling bloc aims to replace the current special law with the new law to enable the MSDF to continue refueling naval ships in the Indian Ocean engaged in the multinational but U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation.

But with the current law set to expire Nov. 1 and the legislature split over the measure, the mission is almost certain to be interrupted until the new bill can gain passage.

Asked how the coalition plans to deal with the opposition camp, which is ready to debate the bill and try to block its passage, Fukuda said: “All we should do is explain the significance of the bill and try to make it understood.”

Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said: “If the bill is not passed by Nov. 1, we will make efforts to get it passed as soon as possible so we can minimize the suspension (of the MSDF mission) and meet the expectations of the international community.”

He also said the government will ensure MSDF-supplied fuel is not diverted for use in the Iraq war.

The ruling bloc hopes to get the bill passed by Nov. 10, which is when the extraordinary Diet session is scheduled to close. If not, the coalition will move to extend the session to buy time. If this fails, the issue will have to wait until the regular Diet session opens in January.

The new legislation will be valid for one year but leaves room for an extension.

The bill limits the MSDF activities to refueling and providing water to the multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean. The bill also limits the MSDF geographically to that ocean, the skies over it and coastal countries deemed noncombat zones.

Earlier this month, the government drafted a bill stipulating a two-year duration, but New Komeito argued it should only be valid for one year to ensure “civilian control” of military operations.

“Now we will be able to deliberate on the bill every year, and therefore, we will be able to check on (the MSDF activities) yearly,” former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters Wednesday morning.

But Ichiro Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, has repeatedly expressed his intention to oppose the bill. Ozawa argued that the OEF-MIO activities are not officially approved by the United Nations and therefore are unconstitutional.

With the Diet divided — the ruling bloc holding a solid Lower House majority and the DPJ-led opposition in control of the Upper House — the coalition has been working hard to persuade the opposition into backing a continued MSDF mission.

“What we must do is gain (acceptance from) the DPJ and hold thorough discussions in both the Lower and Upper houses and vote (on the bill),” LDP lawmaker Taku Yamasaki, who heads the ruling bloc’s project team on the bill, said Wednesday morning.

Even if the bill is voted down in the Upper House, the LDP-New Komeito coalition can still ram it through the Diet under Article 59 of the Constitution, which stipulates that if the upper chamber rejects a bill, it can still be passed by a two-thirds lower chamber overriding vote.

But some ruling bloc lawmakers are reluctant to such forceful tactics.

“It is still too early to talk about whether we will execute (the two-thirds vote),” Yamasaki said.

The new bill also omits the need for Diet approval to dispatch the MSDF, as required under the current law. Instead, there needs to be Cabinet approval of an “implementation plan” that lays out the basic policies and reports any changes of plans to the Diet.