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Ruling bloc rams secrets bill through Lower House

Opposition balks after panel skips further debate on contentious legislation

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The ruling coalition forced its contentious state secrets bill through the Lower House on Tuesday evening amid calls from all but one of the opposition forces for further deliberations on its provisions.

The bill was immediately sent to the Upper House after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, and Your Party of the opposition camp supported the bill at the plenary session of the lower chamber.

With only the support of Your Party, the ruling bloc earlier in the day rammed the bill through the Lower House’s special committee for national security.

Disregarding normal procedures, committee Chairman Fukushiro Nukaga of the LDP moved to end deliberations after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took questions at the committee. Normally there is debate before the committee votes on a bill, but the ruling bloc bypassed the procedure to get the bill to the Lower House plenary session later in the day.

Angered by the ruling bloc’s maneuver, the Democratic Party of Japan, Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) and the Japanese Communist Party voted against the bill in the committee.

Key to Tuesday’s committee vote was whether Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which had reached an agreement on amendments with the ruling coalition last week, would vote for the bill. Despite that agreement, Nippon Ishin repeatedly threatened to vote against the bill if the LDP and New Komeito tried to steamroller it through the committee.

Nippon Ishin has sought assurances from Abe that an independent panel will be created to oversee the classification of the state secrets. As it stands now, the bill states only that an oversight mechanism will be considered.

During the committee session Tuesday, Abe tried to placate Nippon Ishin by saying an independent body would be created before the bill is passed.

In the end, however, the party walked away, insisting more deliberations are needed, considering that 70 percent of the public feels the Diet should not rush to pass the bill.

“Rather than saying I am sorry about the forcible action by the ruling camp, I have to say the ruling camp is steering the Diet in a high-handed way, leveraging on a comfortable majority in both chambers,” said Takao Fujii, Nippon Ishin’s general council chairman, after the party walked away from the vote.

The opposition camp lodged a protest with Lower House Speaker Bunmei Ibuki, demanding that he not allow the bill to be sent to the plenary session, to no avail.

The opposition parties are especially critical of the ruling bloc for trying to hold a vote Tuesday, only one day after the amended bill was submitted to the committee, which also held a public hearing in Fukushima Prefecture.

Everyone who took part in Monday’s public hearing expressed either opposition to or concern about the bill, fearing it could be used to infringe on the public’s right to know. As it reads now, the bill gives the government the power to designate state secrets at its discretion.

For its part, the ruling coalition contends that after more than 45 hours in the Lower House committee, there had been enough deliberation on the bill.

“With the amendment agreed upon with Nippon Ishin and Your Party, we did our best to ease the public’s concerns about the bill,” said the LDP’s Gen Nakatani, leader of the ruling camp’s special committee members.

The bill allows the government in power to designate state secrets, keep them classified for an indefinite time, and provides stiff penalties for leaks or for attempts to learn such secrets in a manner deemed problematic.