National / Politics

DP plays political hardball in bid to slow passage of conspiracy bill

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

In a last-ditch effort to block the enactment of a contentious bill to criminalize conspiracies, the Democratic Party submitted Tuesday a motion to the Upper House calling for the removal of Kozo Akino, the chairperson of the chamber’s Judicial Committee.

The move immediately froze the committee’s sessions, making it harder for the ruling bloc led by the Liberal Democratic Party to enact the bill in the Upper House by June 18, when the current Diet session is set to end.

The motion is expected to be voted down — as early as during Wednesday’s plenary session of the chamber. But it has delayed the next committee session at least until Thursday.

The state-backed conspiracy bill is expected to eventually be enacted by the ruling coalition comprising the LDP and Komeito. But the coalition may have to give up on enacting other legislation — or extend the Diet term — if they want to prioritize the passage of the conspiracy bill during the current session.

Among the measures that could be shelved if confusion continues in the Diet is one that would set harsher punishment for rapists. The bill would allow prosecutors to indict a suspect for rape and other sexual crimes even without being accused by the purported victim.

In addition, the maximum prison term for rape would be raised to five years from three, and the law would be applicable to both male and female perpetrators.

Kazunori Yamanoi, the Diet affairs chief of the Democratic Party, told reporters that the largest opposition party submitted the motion because it believes deliberations under the chairperson are “extremely abnormal.”

Yamanoi also argued that the ruling bloc should prioritize the bill on rape and enact it before the current Diet session closes.

“The public is split over the pros and cons of the conspiracy bill,” Yamanoi said at a news conference. “An overwhelming majority of people believe the Diet should not rush to vote on the legislation.”

A May 20-21 poll by Kyodo News showed that 41.4 percent of voters opposed the bill and 39.9 percent supported it. It also said that 77.2 percent of the 1,033 respondents believed the government’s explanation of the bill “is insufficient” and 56.1 percent said it should not be enacted during this Diet session.

Yamanoi also said the DP is considering submitting a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which would temporarily halt all sessions in both chambers of the Diet, further delaying the deliberation schedule for the bill.

In addition, Yamanoi bashed the ruling bloc for refusing to summon Kihei Maekawa, former vice administrative minister of education, as a sworn witness to testify over the alleged government favoritism shown to school operator Kake Gakuen, which is chaired by one of Abe’s close friends.

“Intensive sessions in both the Lower and Upper houses are needed to investigate and find the truth,” Yamanoi said.

The government has long argued that the conspiracy bill is needed to strengthen anti-terrorism measures ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The bill, however, also allows for the punishment of people who “conspire” to commit certain crimes rather than actually committing them. Critics and opposition lawmakers have argued that such a powerful law could be abused by the government and be used to crack down on ordinary citizens.

If the Diet session is extended, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would likely face more questions from opposition lawmakers over alleged favoritism for Kake Gakuen, which Abe has vehemently denied. Some ruling-party lawmakers are reportedly reluctant to extend the session due to this concern.