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Abe free to put full force behind collective self-defense but offers concession on Diet debate

Record budget clears Lower House

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe got his draft budget for fiscal 2014, worth a record ¥95.88 trillion, through the Lower House on Friday, giving him more time to focus on the contentious issue of collective self-defense.

This is the first time the budget has cleared the powerful Lower House before the end of February since 2009, enabling the administration to implement the budget in April, when the new fiscal year starts. The sales tax will rise to 8 percent from the current 5 percent in April as well.

The Constitution stipulates that the budget bill is automatically enacted after 30 days even if the Upper House fails to pass it. Even so, the divided Diet in recent years meant that the opposition camp could bloc the deliberation process and often delay the budget implementation.

The opposition camp on Thursday demanded more deliberation because the Lower House spent only 14 working days on the record-size budget, the fewest since 2001.

The chairmen of the Lower House Budget and Steering committees, members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, decided unilaterally to hold votes on the budget bill at the committee and plenary levels.

In protest, the Democratic Party of Japan walked out on both votes.

With its comfortable majority in both the Upper and Lower houses, the ruling camp controlled much of the deliberation schedule, repeating the arm-twisting tactics it used in the extraordinary Diet session last year to pass the controversial state secrets law.

Despite rising criticism over his controversial statements, the ruling bloc rejected opposition camp requests to summon NHK board member and novelist Naoki Hyakuta. He has personally expressed his willingness to testify in the Diet.

With passage of the budget bill, the issue of collective self-defense will take center stage, as Abe has repeatedly said his Cabinet will approve a reinterpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 upon receiving a report on the matter from a government panel. Yet on Friday, Abe said he is wiling to put the issue before the Diet ahead of seeking Cabinet approval.

“If Diet members want to hear the government position before the Cabinet approval, we have the obligation to meet such a request,” Abe said during the Lower House Budget Committee session.

Abe’s backpedaling reflects a call even by some members of the ruling camp to hold a comprehensive debate on collective self-defense.

In his email newsletter Thursday, Yoshio Urushibara, an executive in LDP coalition partner New Komeito, expressed rare opposition to Abe for unilaterally making a decision without fully listening to the public.

Sadamori Oshima, a former vice president of the LDP, on Thursday supported Urushibara.