National / Politics

LDP might delay talks on constitutional referendum bill to avoid Diet extension that could hurt Abe

JIJI

The ruling camp is facing increasing difficulties in passing a bill during the current Diet session to amend the process that could be used to revise the Constitution.

The current parliamentary session is scheduled to close Dec. 9, but some in the Liberal Democratic Party, which leads the ruling coalition that also includes Komeito, now seem willing to accept delays to debates regarding the amendment of the national referendum law.

“I don’t think that the bill must be enacted during the ongoing Diet session at any cost,” a senior official with a ruling party said.

Ruling bloc lawmakers are increasingly reluctant to extend the current Diet session in order to avoid offering further opportunities for opposition parties to grill the government over questions raised recently about a state-funded annual cherry blossom-viewing party hosted by the prime minister.

Opposition lawmakers have accused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of using taxpayers’ money to further his own interests, claiming that guests invited to the party have included many of his supporters — a charge that Abe denied.

“All travel and hotel expenses, including the dinner party, were paid for by those who participated themselves,” Abe told reporters at his office on Friday.

“For my office or support group, there was no money coming in or going out,” he said, adding that payments were made directly by each participant to the travel agency in charge of the trip.

The proposed amendments to the national referendum law currently under discussion are said to include measures aimed at improving voter convenience, such as setting up polling stations at places like train stations and commercial facilities and allowing people to cast votes at such stations, even if they fall outside their own district.

On Thursday, the Lower House’s Commission on the Constitution held a meeting of senior members from both ruling and opposition parties to discuss the handling of the bill.

But the two sides remained at odds, with the ruling camp seeking agreement from the opposition bloc for its plan to hold a question-and-answer session on the legislation and put it to a vote next week.

Major opposition parties are calling for priority to be given to discussions about regulating television commercials linked to any referendum on constitutional revision. The opposition is concerned that ruling parties with ample funds for such commercials would sway voters.

“We want to hold a brief question-and-answer session and then take a vote on it,” Yoshitaka Shindo, leader of the LDP members in the commission, told reporters after the meeting.

But Ikuo Yamahana, Shindo’s counterpart from the major opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters separately, “We have an interest in regulating TV commercials.”

Holding debates on the matter “is a precondition for putting the legislation to a vote,” Yamahana said.

The Lower House commission and its equivalent in the Upper House hold regular meetings on Thursdays and Wednesdays, respectively, meaning both commissions are scheduled to meet three more times before the end of the current Diet session.

But a senior LDP lawmaker has said that the Upper House commission needs two days for discussions on the bill.

That would mean that the bill must clear the Lower House within the next week to ensure it is enacted during the current Diet session, sources with knowledge of the matter have said.

In open talks among members of the Lower House commission on Thursday, Shoichi Kondo of the CDP sounded cautious about the odds of any changes being made to the top law even if the procedure is amended, saying, “I don’t think there is momentum for overhauling the Constitution among the public.”

If the ruling coalition were to railroad the bill, those in the opposition would be certain to react harshly, observers say.