National / Politics

Diet session extended through September as Abe aims to pass contentious security bills

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi decided Monday to extend the current Diet session, originally to end Wednesday, by 95 days to Sept. 27 — the longest extension in postwar history — in a bid to enact the controversial security bills.

Later in the day, the Lower House approved the extension in a majority vote led by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition that holds a majority in both Diet chambers.

The lengthy extension underlines Abe’s determination to pass the two bills, which would revise 10 security laws and ease various constraints on Self-Defense Forces operations.

“I want to see a thorough debate (on the bills) using the 95-day extension,” Abe told reporters after the vote. “In seeking (the bills’) passage, I’ll ensure our explanation will be thorough.”

The proposed legislation would also allow Japan to use the right to collective self-defense, as defined under the United Nations charter, in certain situations. The Constitution had long been interpreted as banning the use of the right. But the Abe Cabinet declared last year that it had changed the government’s interpretation of pacifist Article 9 in order to allow it.

A bill will be scrapped at the end of a legislative session unless lawmakers go through procedures to carry it over to the next session. Thus opposition lawmakers have been trying to prolong deliberations of the controversial security bills as long as possible.

Facing reporters after the Abe-Yamaguchi meeting, Sadakazu Tanigaki, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, said the two parties had decided to extend the session partly because public support for the bills has yet to “sufficiently prevail.”

“I think it’s true that it is difficult to understand the bills at first glance,” Tanigaki said.

He also said he hopes the bills will pass the Lower House and will be handed over to the Upper House in early July.

A nationwide opinion poll conducted by Kyodo News on Saturday and Sunday found that 63.1 percent of respondents said the bills should not be enacted during the current legislative session, up 8 points from the previous poll last month. Only 26.2 percent said they support the bills.

The poll also showed 56.7 percent of respondents believe the bills violate the Constitution, while 29.2 believe they do not.

The LDP-Komeito ruling bloc holds a majority in both the Lower and Upper houses, which basically means they can bulldoze the bills through the Diet despite resistance by opposition parties.

But high-ranking officials appear reluctant to resort to forcibly passing the bills because this could hurt popular support for Abe’s Cabinet and weaken the prime minister’s political clout.

“More deliberations mean (an effort) to deepen understanding of the people and form a national consensus,” Yoshihisa Inoue, secretary-general of Komeito, told reporters.

The extension will allow plenty of time for deliberations on the bills, making it more difficult for opposition lawmakers to block their passage.

At the same time, it will give opposition parties more opportunities during Diet sessions to grill Cabinet members, including Abe, over the security bills.

Abe and Yamaguchi have apparently judged that the benefits of the former outweigh the risks of the latter.

Information from Kyodo added