National / Politics

Scandals, immigration and constitutional reform set to dominate extraordinary Diet session opening Wednesday

by Sakura Murakami and Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writers

A 48-day extraordinary Diet session opens Wednesday, within which a number of issues key to the nation’s future are set to be debated — including drastic revision of immigration law and a draft proposal from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to revise the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

The government is also urging lawmakers to ratify — by the session’s end, set for Dec. 10 — a free trade agreement with the European Union that would significantly lower Japan’s tariffs on dairy products, pork, beef and wood from Europe.

However, the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc is likely to face tough resistance from opposition parties during the session.

Opposition lawmakers are ready to grill several new Cabinet members over scandals, which could prolong deliberations on some key issues and possibly damage the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Regional Revitalization Minister Satsuki Katayama is among those likely to face questions. Last week the magazine Shukan Bunshun reported that Katayama, the only female member in Abe’s Cabinet, received ¥1 million from an unidentified manufacturing company in 2015 in possible violation of an anti-corruption law. Katayama has denied the allegation, filing a libel suit against the weekly’s publisher.

“Katayama would have no choice but to resign” if the allegation is true, said Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the second-largest opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People, on Saturday while speaking with reporters in the city of Chiba.

Opposition lawmakers have meanwhile criticized the proposed revision of the immigration law, which would introduce more blue-collar workers with certain skills from April by issuing a new residence status for such foreign laborers.

The revision is designed to boost the number of foreign workers to cope with acute labor shortages in certain sectors, such as the construction, agriculture, retailing and hotel industries.

Opposition lawmakers, however, argued that the government has not worked through all the details of the new immigration system, such as measures to integrate immigrants into still-conservative Japanese communities.

“The legislation would possibly change the course of Japan’s society and economy, and it roused a lot of public attention. Prime Minister Abe should make his positions clear,” Tamaki told a news conference last week.

He added that it is important to protect human rights and improve the working conditions of foreign laborers. Policy measures to ensure the smooth integration of foreign nationals into Japanese society should be worked out, he said.

The government, meanwhile, has insisted the new visa system is not to introduce “immigrants” but foreign workers. The government defines an immigration policy as one that introduces foreign nationals with their family members indefinitely so they will account for a certain percentage of the national population.

Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, has criticized the government, saying the new system is a “de facto immigration policy” and claimed that it is “unacceptable” to introduce such a policy “without proper and open debate” over immigration issues.

Regarding changes to the Constitution, the LDP plans to submit its own draft revision of Article 9 to the Diet. It would add a new paragraph to the article that, according to Abe, would formalize the legal status of the Self-Defense Forces.

Abe has argued that the amendment would not change the substance of the SDF’s operations, but would put an end to the long-standing academic debate over its constitutionality.

Speaking to reporters last week, Edano said, “Our stance is that we would support any revision if they are changes for the better.”

“But the LDP’s proposals are changes for the worse and are utterly unacceptable. Besides, the public hasn’t accepted or approved the (proposed) changes,” he added.

The CDP maintains that Abe’s revision would allow the SDF to fully exercise the right to collective self-defense because adding a new graph to the article would, in their view, nullify the previous government interpretation of the rest of the Article 9.

In an opinion poll conducted by the daily Yomiuri Shimbun from Sept. 21 to 23, 39 percent of respondents said they supported Abe’s idea while 43 percent were opposed to it.

In addition, 51 percent said the LDP should not submit the revision proposal to the extraordinary Diet session, while 36 percent said that they should.

Another figure likely to face a grilling from opposition parties is education minister Masahiko Shibayama, who caused a public stir by saying that a prewar Imperial Rescript on education could be used in today’s moral education at public schools if some part of it were to be “rearranged.”

Before and during World War II, the Imperial Rescript was used to fan nationalism by fostering heightened reverence toward the emperor. Scrutiny on Shibayama is likely to continue through the Diet session.

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