National / Politics

Abe to pursue contentious law against criminal conspiracies from outset of Diet session

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

As this year’s ordinary Diet session kicks off Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to make waves yet again. His newest goal is to make conspiracies to commit crimes a punishable offense.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s renewed push for an anti-conspiracy law looks set to become the latest in a spate of recent attempts to ram contentious bills through the Diet. Steamrolling through the conspiracy bill — which the government touts as a powerful weapon against global terrorism — is a touchy move that could stoke distrust not only in the opposition camp but also in the ruling coalition over the party’s heavy-handedness.

Aside from controversy over the bill, the government also faces the daunting task of navigating politically sensitive deliberations on unprecedented legislation to allow for Emperor Akihito’s abdication — not to mention securing Diet approval of a record-high ¥97.4547 trillion budget plan for fiscal 2017.

The political clash over the anti-conspiracy law has been brewing in recent weeks.

“The fight against terrorism is a huge international challenge. It is imperative that Japan be part of that global effort. We must make active contributions,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the LDP, stressed at a regular news conference Tuesday. The LDP aims to get the bill passed by the end of the upcoming Diet session, Nikai had previously said.

The envisaged law seeks to nip acts of terrorism in the bud by penalizing criminal organizations for plotting and preparing to commit offenses.

While the government defends the legislation as an essential step toward ratifying a U.N.-designated treaty against transnational organized crime, staunch skepticism abounds.

Critics argue the envisaged law may lead to abuse of power by authorities, endangering civil liberties and jeopardizing freedom of thought as guaranteed by the Constitution. Even the LDP’s coalition partner, Komeito, fears the legislation, which is expected to cover more than 600 types of offenses, is too sweeping.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said it needs to “thoroughly discuss” with the LDP details of the bill before making its submission.

To allay such concerns, the LDP is reportedly considering trimming the number of crime types subject to the law to below 300.

The compromise may reflect the party’s wish to avoid further alienating Komeito, which suffered humiliation in December by failing to unify its stance on the contentious bill to lift the ban on casinos in Japan. At the time, the LDP went all-out in supporting the bill in lockstep with the conservative opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai, ignoring Komeito’s resistance to the casino legalization.

On Tuesday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said it is possible the types of crimes punishable by the law will be whittled down, but he did not elaborate.

The opposition camp, for its part, is far from sold on the legislation.

“The law kind of makes people feel that they are under constant surveillance by the state,” Renho, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, told a news conference last week, adding her party will finalize its stance on the bill after scrutinizing its details.

The Japanese Communist Party is predictably dead set against the move. Akira Koike, secretariat head of the party, said the JCP will go “all-out” in trying to defeat the bill, which he likened to Japan’s notorious prewar law used to squelch dissent under the pretext of maintaining public order.

Discussions over legislation to allow for Emperor Akihito’s abdication, meanwhile, are becoming complex.

The current Imperial Household Law doesn’t cover the possibility of an emperor retiring, stipulating instead that succession only follows the death of a reigning monarch.

The Emperor, however, indicated in a rare video message in August that he wishes to relinquish his throne while alive, leaving the Abe administration scrambling to hammer out solutions.

Reports say the government will likely submit special one-off legislation to make an exception of the Emperor’s case, underscoring its apparent unwillingness to legislate any drastic break from tradition.

The DP, meanwhile, advocates a more permanent, root-and-branch reform, and is adamant that the Imperial Household Law should be revised to pave the way for the retirement of future emperors.

In a rare move, the chairs of the lower and upper chambers of the Diet have agreed to organize negotiations between the ruling and opposition parties to coordinate their opinions before the government submits a bill. Such prior dialogue is meant to smooth out as many differences as possible between political parties and ensure the bill’s swift passage.

Among other key bills that could be deliberated in the upcoming Diet session is the “white-collar exemption” legislation, which is meant to curb overwork among well-paid skilled workers by prioritizing their performance over working hours. An amendment to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18 could also be submitted.

All eyes are also on how smoothly debate proceeds at a Diet committee tasked with discussing rewrites of the pacifist Constitution.

Last year’s extraordinary Diet session saw the panel, known as the Commission on the Constitution, reopen after a year-long hiatus in what was seen as a crucial step toward proposing changes to the 70-year-old supreme law drafted by the Allied Occupation.

Debates at the panel, however, went nowhere near mapping out specifics on constitutional amendments, with only a few sessions held in both chambers of the Diet.

The most imminent question will be whether Abe wants to swiftly push for amending the war-renouncing Article 9 — anathema to nationalists who call for a more militarist Japan — or simply “experiment” with less-contentious changes first, said Yoshiaki Kobayashi, a political science professor at Keio University.

Possible tweaks include adding the right to live in a healthy environment, giving the Cabinet the power to declare a state of emergency in the event of a calamity and defining the government’s responsibility for financial austerity, he said.

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