Fukuda looks to restart Diet next month

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Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda indicated Tuesday he is looking at a mid-September start for the extraordinary Diet session, during which the ruling bloc hopes to introduce emergency economic steps and continue Japan’s contribution to antiterrorism efforts.

But Fukuda avoided mention of the exact starting date and length of the session, according to lawmakers who attended a meeting between government leaders and senior ruling coalition lawmakers.

Hiroyuki Hosoda, deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said Fukuda wants to focus on four points during the session — emergency economic measures against rising prices of oil and other items, international cooperation, comprehensive measures for consumers, and leftover bills from the previous Diet session.

Fukuda “did not go into detail, but it is my understanding that comprehensive measures for consumers include establishment of the consumer affairs agency, and international cooperation includes antiterrorism measures,” Hosoda told a news conference.

A key issue in the session will be whether to extend the law to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean. The law expires in mid-January.

Some LDP lawmakers had hoped to begin the session in late August to ensure enough time to ram the antiterrorism bill through the Diet even if the opposition-controlled Upper House rejects it. Fukuda had hinted previously that the session might begin before September.

But the LDP’s coalition partner, New Komeito, backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist group and an advocate of peace, has repeatedly expressed reluctance to force the antiterrorism bill’s passage and has been pushing for the session to start in late September. Fukuda’s “mid-September” plan may be a compromise.

New Komeito leader Akihiro Ota stressed the importance of holding discussions between the ruling and opposition parties over various bills and measures, including the antiterrorism bill.

“Antiterrorism measures are necessary,” Ota said after the meeting with Fukuda and other senior officials. “Considering the current situation in Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing these diplomatic affairs is a matter of extreme importance.”

LDP Secretary General Taro Aso argued that the antiterrorism law’s extension is necessary because 90 percent of Japan’s oil comes through the Indian Ocean.

“The country as a whole must take responsibility, and both the ruling and opposition parties should thoroughly discuss the issue and cooperate,” Aso said. “How could Japan (consider being) the only (country) to back out of international cooperation?”