In protest of remarks made by Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yuji Yamamoto on Tuesday suggesting the ruling parties could steamroll approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact through the Diet, lawmakers belonging to the two largest opposition parties walked out before Diet deliberations began on Friday.
However, the ruling parties continued on their own with the unsworn testimony session in a special House of Representatives committee on the TPP deal, which Japan and the United States inked with 10 other Pacific Rim nations in February.
Lawmakers from the Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party sat out the session, in which the ruling parties quizzed several university professors on agricultural issues, after unsuccessfully urging committee head Ryu Shionoya to call it off.
“It’s abnormal to proceed with the deliberation only with parties that are supportive of the TPP legislation,” the DP’s Diet affairs chief, Kazunori Yamanoi, told a news conference Friday. “It’s intolerable.”
The ruling parties are seeking to get the TPP approved before the end of the month, which will secure a Diet passage even if the Upper House fails to pass it by Nov. 30 when the current Diet session ends.
If the Upper House doesn’t approve the legislation within 30 days of a Lower House passage, the legislation will clear the Diet because the decision of the Lower House takes priority.
The ruling coalition apparently wants to ensure passage through the Diet before the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election, to put pressure on Washington.
Earlier this week Yamamoto said during a speech at a fundraising party in support of Tsutomu Sato, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Diet affairs chief, that “Sato will decide whether or not we’ll force the passage (of the TPP).”
Yamamoto, who was appointed to the post in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Aug. 3 Cabinet reshuffle, apologized and retracted the remark the following day amid criticism from members of both ruling and opposition parties.
He has rebuffed calls from the opposition to resign, telling a news conference Friday he is “thinking of nothing other than earnestly performing my duties.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Abe government’s top spokesman, stressed this week that Yamamoto has already been cautioned over the remark and it is “not something to resign over.”
Abe has described the ratification of the TPP, a pillar of his administration’s growth strategy, as the priority of the current extraordinary Diet session set to run through Nov. 30.
On Friday he called on ruling party lawmakers to continue the deliberations with “a greater sense of alertness (than before).”
“The most important thing is for us to give a careful explanation to the public,” Abe told a meeting between the government and ruling parties.
Also Friday, the board for the special committee on TPP decided to push back the date of regional public hearings on the pact to next Wednesday. The committee originally decided to hold the hearings next Monday in the absence of the DP and JCP.
According to sources close to the matter, some in the ruling parties had recommended going ahead with the hearings as planned, without the opposition’s participation.
“There’s no way the opposition will come around to agreeing with the proposal to approve (the TPP), even if they’re given concessions,” a former Cabinet minister said.