Diet session extended a second time

by Masami Ito and Setsuko Kamiya

The ruling bloc extended the extraordinary Diet session Friday by another month to Jan. 15, making it certain the contentious bill to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Indian Ocean support mission will clear the divided legislature.

It is the first time in 19 years that an extraordinary Diet session has been extended twice. The current session, which opened in September, has already been extended 35 days beyond its original closing date of Nov. 10.

Amid strong protest from the opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc used its comfortable majority in the Lower House to pass the 31-day extension, which buys them more time to debate the bill.

The special antiterrorism bill is aimed at resuming the MSDF refueling mission in support of antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan. The opposition, which controls the Upper House, has criticized the bill as unconstitutional and can either vote it down or sit on it.

But the Constitution allows for the bill to return to the Lower House if rejected by the Upper House or if the bill has not been voted on within 60 days after being presented to the upper chamber.

Since the bill was approved by the Lower House on Nov. 13, the ruling camp can get the legislation back to the lower chamber by Jan. 12 — with or without the Upper House vote — and enact it with a two-thirds majority vote.

Earlier on, some ruling coalition politicians were reluctant to use the override tactic out of fear it would prompt the opposition camp to pass a censure motion against Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in the Upper House, fearing the move could prompt him to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election.

But it appears the coalition now has enough courage to ram the bill — Fukuda’s legislative priority — through the Diet.

Choosing his words carefully, New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota told reporters Friday morning that the coalition has not yet decided on pushing its majority override powers.

“I think that whether we use the two-thirds vote rule depends on how much public understanding we can get,” Ota said, adding he thinks public awareness of the override rule has spread.

It was also the first time in 14 years that an extraordinary Diet session — normally held in the fall — has been extended into the new year. By law, an extraordinary session can be extended twice but usually finishes up by mid-December, enabling the ruling bloc and the government to prepare the budget for the next fiscal year in time for the regular Diet session in January.