MSDF bill heads toward full vote in Lower House

by Masami Ito

Amid strong protests from opposition parties Monday, the ruling bloc rammed a special antiterrorism bill through a Lower House committee that would enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to resume its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.

The bill is poised for passage Tuesday by the Lower House with a majority vote from the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition. From there it will be moved to the opposition-controlled Upper House.

During the committee meeting, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda stressed the importance of passing the bill.

“We must not forget that we are a part of international society,” Fukuda said. “The refueling activities in the Indian Ocean are a very effective way (for Japan to participate in international cooperation). Our ships are on their way back to Japan, but I strongly hope the bill will be approved so that the ships can head out to the Indian Ocean again.”

The bill was submitted to the Diet last month to replace the previous antiterrorism law that expired Nov. 1. Because the bill was not approved before the previous law expired, the MSDF’s activities have been suspended.

Last week, the government extended the current extraordinary Diet session until Dec. 15 in hopes of getting the bill passed. But the measure is likely to be rejected in the Upper House.

Yoshio Hachiro of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, expressed disappointment over the committee vote.

“There was not enough deliberation and we could not agree to vote on the bill,” Hachiro said, adding that the committee was still in the middle of uncovering scandals involving the Defense Ministry. Hachiro said the DPJ will do everything it can to stop the bill from being passed by the Upper House.

The bill would be valid for one year but leaves room for an extension. It would also limit MSDF activities to only providing fuel and water to naval ships in the Indian Ocean.

Even if it is rejected by the Upper House, however, the Lower House can override the decision. Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates that if a bill is rejected by the Upper House, it can be passed with a two-thirds vote in the Lower House, which the ruling bloc currently controls.

Former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, who is a member of the LDP, said during the committee meeting that the ruling bloc needs to consider passing the bill with a two-thirds vote.

Fukuda steered clear of mentioning such a forceful measure.

“The Diet is a place to deliberate on bills, and (the ruling and opposition parties) must cooperate together to create better laws for the people and the interests of the nation,” Fukuda said.

Meanwhile, LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki indicated Sunday that Fukuda might dissolve the House of Representatives and call a general election if the opposition blocks passage of the antiterrorism bill.

Appearing on an NHK talk show, Ibuki said Fukuda may also do so if the opposition-dominated Upper House approves a censure motion against him.

“If a censure motion is launched, we will not be able to get into deliberations on budget-related bills” such as the draft budget for fiscal 2008, Ibuki said.

“One of the options (to break the impasse) is to make a crucial decision,” Ibuki said, referring to a possible dissolving of the Lower House.

Information from Kyodo added