National / Politics

Opposition makes last-ditch effort to block conspiracy bill

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Political wrangling over whether to approve a new penalty against criminal conspiracy approached a climax Wednesday after opposition lawmakers submitted a no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda as part of an eleventh-hour tactic to delay the vote.

The proposed revision to the current anti-organized crime law — arguably the biggest source of controversy in the ongoing Diet session — is aimed at enabling law enforcement authorities to crack down on suspected terrorists who conspire to commit crimes.

The government deems the revision vital to beefing up counterterrorism capabilities ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and has said the law was a prerequisite for participation in a U.N.-designated convention against transnational organized crime. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has even declared that Japan can’t host the Olympics without the law.

Critics, however, say that a police crackdown under the revised law could extend to ordinary citizens, turning the nation into a surveillance society where everyday acts, such as bird-watching or withdrawing cash from banks, could be misconstrued as preparation for crimes.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its allies were set to pass the revised bill at a Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee on Wednesday, with a view to push it through the plenary session of the chamber on Thursday.

But hopes for such a scenario were dashed by the opposition camp Wednesday morning, as it jointly submitted the no-confidence motion against Kaneda, preventing the committee from being convened. The ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner Komeito is expected to strike down the motion Thursday, with the bill’s committee-level passage expected to be delayed until Friday.

The Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party said in submitting the motion that the level of Kaneda’s unsuitability as a state minister was “almost unprecedented” in recent memory.

Kaneda, a legal amateur assigned to the portfolio in an August Cabinet reshuffle, has frequently fumbled for answers during the ongoing Diet session, prompting bureaucrats seated behind him to whisper the correct responses.

“He can’t answer the most basic question regarding the revision. His lack of legal knowledge is appalling,” DP lawmaker Seiji Osaka told reporters after submitting the no-confidence motion, adding that Kaneda has failed woefully in his responsibility to explain to the public the revision that would “drastically change how Japan’s criminal law works.”

The opposition has long argued that the criteria for what might constitute “preparing for crimes” remains unclear.

Kaneda said in April that “objective evidence” will be a major factor in deciding whether someone is plotting a crime, providing as an example: “If you walk under cherry blossom trees with beer and a lunch box, that’s considered as hanami (cherry-blossom viewing). But if you do so carrying a map, binoculars and a notebook, that might be your attempt to inspect a crime scene beforehand.”

Bewildered, JCP lawmaker Yasufumi Fujino contested: “You can still carry binoculars for bird-watching … That’s no clear criterion.”

Fujino said the ultimate criteria would then boil down to what had been on people’s minds during these flagged actions instead of objective evidence.

In response to the no-confidence motion, Kaneda said, “(I have) done all I could” to live up to public expectations.

LDP lawmaker Yoshihisa Furukawa, chairman of the Judicial Affairs Committee, decried the opposition’s delay tactic, saying it hampered constructive discussion on the revision.