The Diet appears to have become bogged down under the weight of a number of key legislative items that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hopes to see enacted during the current 150-day session that ends June 19.
Some within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party believe Koizumi may even need to delay some of the legislation unless he is ready to extend the Diet’s term beyond June 19.
The legislation submitted by the Koizumi-led coalition government includes a set of bills governing Japan’s response to foreign military attacks. It also includes a bill on the protection of human rights and legislation to protect personal information, both of which have been criticized in the media as a veiled attempt by the government to tighten controls on journalists.
Despite resistance from some senior LDP lawmakers, Koizumi also presented a set of postal service deregulation bills.
Koizumi managed to put these bills on the Diet agenda before the Golden Week recess and hopes they will be enacted in the final six weeks of the session.
The recent series of scandals involving lawmakers’ secretaries, however, is giving momentum to the opposition’s demand that measures to combat political corruption take center stage in the debates.
On Tuesday, a top aide to former LDP lawmaker Muneo Suzuki was arrested for his role in an alleged bid-rigging scheme involving a government-funded aid project on Kunashiri Island. The island is one of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are also claimed by Japan.
On Thursday, former Upper House President Yutaka Inoue announced his resignation from the Diet shortly before his former secretary was arrested for allegedly obstructing a public works bidding process in Chiba Prefecture.
The opposition is particularly keen to summon Suzuki to appear before the Diet again as a sworn witness and plan to grill him to determine whether he was involved in the bid-rigging case.
They are also urging the LDP-led alliance to allow a Diet vote on a motion urging Suzuki to resign. In March, the ruling camp refused even to submit the matter for discussion.
The government is asking the opposition camp to cooperate on the key bills. Strong public criticism of some of the bills, however, has even prompted calls for caution from within the ruling camp.
Some New Komeito lawmakers indicate that the bills on the protection of personal information and human rights may have to be shelved until the next Diet session, which is likely to start in the fall. Some LDP members have even suggested amending the bills to appease public criticism and dilute resistance from the opposition.
“I have no idea how the deliberations on the two bills would proceed,” said a senior member of the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee.
Opposition to the postal deregulation bills remains strong within the LDP. Debate on the bills is not likely to begin until at least mid-May.
Doubts also linger within the LDP over the government’s bill to revise the law on health insurance, which would require salaried workers to pay 30 percent of their medical costs, up from the current 20 percent.
The government has placed highest priority on the foreign attack emergency bills. It hopes to have them approved by the Lower House by late May, but the opposition is calling for more time to deliberate the controversial legislation.
“I don’t understand why (Koizumi) wants to work on all these controversial bills at once,” lamented a senior LDP lawmaker.
The Diet returns to normal business on Tuesday following the Golden Week recess.
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