The ruling coalition on Tuesday evening forced through a vote to hold a public hearing on the highly decried state secrets bill Wednesday afternoon without giving opposition lawmakers a chance to speak at the Upper House special committee on national security.
“This kind of Diet steering is unheard of,” charged Tetsuto Fukuyama of the Democratic Party of Japan after the special committee closed with only the ruling bloc voting to hold the public hearing. “How can the ruling camp say they will have heard out public opinion when they set the hearing less than one day before holding it?”
Adamant about passing the contentious bill by Friday, the ruling camp was trying to set the stage for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to appear at the Upper House special committee Wednesday morning to give the opposition the chance to grill him, so that it could then hold the regional public hearing in Omiya, Saitama Prefecture, in the afternoon.
The public hearing is a necessary step for passing the bill into law.
The opposition camp’s frustration with what it calls the ruling bloc’s high-handed way of ramming the secrecy legislation through the Diet reached a near-fever pitch Tuesday.
Despite their different stances on the bill, members of the opposition camp held a meeting in the Diet building to criticize the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc’s forceful methods.
“The bill needs to be deliberated thoroughly. We are unanimously demanding the ruling camp to be cautious on its deliberation,” said Keiichiro Asao, secretary-general of Your Party, which largely supports the bill and voted for it in the Lower House last week.
After the ruling LDP and New Komeito strong-armed the bill though the Lower House on Nov. 26, Abe said the upper chamber should conduct enough deliberation to ease public concerns over the legislation, which would impose heavier penalties against leakers and seekers of government-designated secrets.
Yet the Upper House had deliberated on the bill for only 16 hours as of Tuesday, three days before the Diet is scheduled to close, while the Lower House spent more than 46 hours on the matter. The Upper House usually spends around 70 percent of the time on legislation than the Lower House, but it is unlikely the Upper House will reach 30 hours by the Friday close.
The opposition camp is also critical of the ambiguous nature of the bill and how the government appears to lack a coherent understanding of its significance, highlighted by inconsistent responses by Masako Mori, the state minister in charge of guiding the bill through the Diet, and a verbal gaffe by LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba, who apparently didn’t understand the meaning of terrorism as stated in the bill.
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which reached agreements with the ruling bloc over amendments to the bill but stepped back from actually voting in the Lower House, is demanding that the ruling camp firmly promise that a third-party panel to monitor the secrets-classification process be completely independent from the prime minister.
“We could not express our opposition against the bill at the Lower House as we had agreed on the amendments,” said Sakihito Ozawa, who heads Nippon Ishin’s Lower House steering committee.
“But we have to make a critical decision if the coalition government won’t guarantee the independence of the panel.”