Brushing off vocal protests by opposition lawmakers, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition Friday passed a bill to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement at a special Lower House committee, sparking criticism that it resorted to a steamroll vote.
Upon the bill’s adoption, the committee descended into pandemonium, with a wave of agitated lawmakers from the Democratic Party, the main opposition force, swarming Chairman Ryu Shionoya in a gesture of protest. They yelled, tussled and held up pieces of paper that said, “No steamroll vote!” and “We’re against TPP!”
The DP and the Japanese Communist Party had boycotted most of Friday’s session.
“This is what you can do when you outnumber your opponents,” an exasperated DP President Renho told reporters after the session, describing how the ruling coalition forced the bill through.
“Prime Minister Abe has said his (Liberal Democratic Party) has never even thought about ramming a bill through the Diet. What a terrible joke,” she said.
The opposition’s anger has also been fueled by gaffes made by farm minister Yuji Yamamoto.
While attending a fellow LDP lawmaker’s party on Oct. 18, Yamamoto suggested the TPP bill could be bulldozed through the Diet, a remark that was widely interpreted as indicative of the LDP’s heavy-handed intentions.
Barely two weeks had passed since that remark when a frivolous Yamamoto said at a different party that the gaffe was intended as a “joke,” further antagonizing the opposition as calls for his head flared anew. Even in the LDP, some frowned upon Yamamoto as lacking professionalism.
“I would like to sincerely apologize for causing great trouble due to my inappropriate remarks,” Yamamoto told the committee somberly. “I will withdraw my remarks.”
Renho said the DP is determined to ramp up its criticism and possibly submit a no-confidence motion against him.
Despite the ruckus, the LDP-Komeito ruling coalition, along with the right-leaning opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai, stuck to their guns on the TPP-ratifying bill, which is critical to its passage in the Lower House plenary session next week.
The bill is expected to be approved Tuesday, just ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
Abe put great emphasis on getting the bill through the Lower House before the election in the belief that decisive action would help underline Japan’s stance that it has no intention of accepting any U.S. request to renegotiate the pact.
Both Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump, the Republican pick, have voiced skepticism about the trade pact.
After the committee stamped the bill, it adopted a supplementary resolution demanding, among other things, that the government actively disclose information on the TPP and better clarify its obligation to label genetically modified foods.
The government has touted the pact as vital to Japan’s growth, estimating it will create 800,000 jobs and translate into a 2.5 percent annual rise in gross domestic product, or a whopping ¥14 trillion.
The opposition, meanwhile, lambasted the government’s failure to defend Japan’s five “sacred” product categories against an influx of foreign items under the pact.
The DP pointed out that despite the government’s promise to protect them, none, including rice, wheat, beef and pork, survived the TPP negotiations intact, with each declared subject to varying degrees of tariff elimination.
DP lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki argued such a result “clearly violates” an April 2013 Diet resolution that said the items should be excluded from the TPP negotiations.