As the extraordinary Diet session began Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid out his legislative agenda and left political observers speculating over the government’s apparent tilt to the right and its push for “patriotism.”

Abe has made reforming the nation’s educational system a priority and his first step is to try to revise the Fundamental Law of Education, which has shaped the postwar school system.

Abe told reporters Tuesday at his first news conference as prime minister that he intended to get a bill revising the education law passed during the 81-day extraordinary Diet session.

“One important policy of my Cabinet will be to reform education,” Abe said. “We must guarantee that all children have the opportunity to receive a high-level education and standards.”

The ruling coalition, made up of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, submitted the bill to revise the education law during the previous Diet session, but it wasn’t passed and was carried over to the extraordinary session because the bill included controversial provisions for instilling in students a certain sense of patriotism.

The coalition partners themselves had struggled over how the ruling bloc would define patriotism. The bill spells out “cultivating an attitude that respects tradition and culture, loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them, while respecting other countries and contributing to international peace and development.”

The LDP had pushed for the bill to call patriotism “a heart that loves the nation,” but New Komeito pressed for the phrase “a heart that treasures the nation,” arguing that “loves” smacks of the militant nationalism of the 1930s and 1940s.

Abe also stressed the need to reform public schools in order to ensure equal educational opportunities for young people.

Considering that many parents are dissatisfied with the state of public schools, “it will be easy to get public consent” for the education bill, said Yoshiaki Kobayashi, a professor of political science at Keio University.

But opposition parties have objected strongly to the bill. The largest, the Democratic Party of Japan, submitted its own education bill in response.

The DPJ bill, however, was criticized by some of its own ranks because of its phrase “cultivating a heart that loves Japan” in the preamble.

“The education bill is a delicate subject for the opposition parties, especially the DPJ,” Kobayashi said. “It will be difficult for the DPJ to reach a consensus because some of its members are more conservative than LDP lawmakers.”

The DPJ is an amalgam of earlier parties from across the ideological spectrum — from Socialists to the conservative Liberal Party — whose members are more united in their desire to unseat the LDP than on specific policy questions.

Abe is also keen on a bill to extend the special counterterrorism law that will expire Nov. 1.

The law authorizes the Maritime Self-Defense Force dispatch to the Indian Ocean to provide fuel to naval forces of the coalition involved in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. The legislation was enacted in October 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The LDP approved a bill extending the law for another year Tuesday.

“The advantage of passing this bill for the LDP is it shows Japan working with the U.S. on security,” Kobayashi said.

Another major Cabinet goal is getting a bill passed to make conspiracy a criminal offense. Debate on legislation that would have made the change also had to be carried over into the extraordinary session after the bill ran into resistance from opposition parties.

The conspiracy bill was first submitted to the Diet in 2003, after Japan signed the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime in 2000.

The treaty calls for member countries to enact laws that make conspiracy a crime.

But the proposed legislation was dropped twice due to strong criticism from opposition parties and human rights organizations, which worry it could lead to suppression of freedom of thought.

After hours of deliberation over the bill during the previous Diet session, the LDP at one point said it would accept the DPJ’s version of the bill, which limited the scope of the law to cover crimes punishable by more than five years in prison and transnational organized crime.

But the DPJ rejected the compromise after reports that the LDP intended to amend the proposal in the next Diet session.

“I believe the conspiracy bill is a means to prevent terrorism,” said Fukashi Horie, a former political science professor at Keio University and now president of Shobi University. “The bill should not be left hanging for much longer, but it must be carefully deliberated to ensure that law-abiding citizens are not affected.”

See related links:
Abe makes reform pitch
Gist of Diet policy speech

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