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Thursday, May 15, 2003
War contingency bills approved by key Diet panel
A set of government-sponsored war contingency bills were approved by a special committee of the Lower House Wednesday, paving the way for their likely enactment by the Diet by the end of the current session of the legislature.
On Tuesday, an agreement was reached between the ruling coalition and the Democratic Party of Japan amending part of the bills. On Wednesday, the Liberal Party, another opposition force, reversed its stance and voted for the bills at the request of the DPJ.
Among the major political parties, only members of the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party voted against the bills. The two parties called for more time in deliberating the bills, saying that it is too early to vote on them as they had been amended only one day earlier.
The bills are expected to be endorsed by the full Lower House in a plenary session vote Thursday and sent to the upper chamber. They are likely to be enacted before the current 150-day Diet session closes in mid-June.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hailed the committee's endorsement of the bills as "epoch making," saying he has long tried to gain consensus from as many parties as possible on the war contingency legislation.
"We've gained the understanding and cooperation of many political parties on the national security issue," Koizumi told reporters.
The bills define Japan's response to enemy attacks and are the first such legislation for the nation since the end of World War II.
The Liberal Party's support for the bills may work to the party's favor as it pursues a merger with the DPJ. The merger talks between the two parties remain stalled, due partly to differences on key policy issues, including the war bills.
The war contingency legislation empowers the government to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces to cope with "a military attack situation."
But opponents of the bills have argued that the definition of such a situation is vague. During the Diet debate, the JCP pointed out that the legislation could be invoked to support military operations led by the United States. , although the government says the war-renouncing Constitution prohibits Japan from exercising the right to collective defense.
Ruling party lawmakers and Defense Agency officials have been calling for such wartime legislation for more than three decades. They point out that no laws have been enacted in postwar Japan that would allow for the smooth operation of the Self-Defense Forces if the country were to come under attack.
There are no laws, for example, that would allow the SDF to expropriate or use land, trees, houses or other property to establish positions in a battlefield.
Under current laws the SDF would not be exempt, even in wartime, from the numerous procedures required by various laws. Such procedures include those concerning road traffic, burials at cemeteries, medical activities at hospitals, building standards, medical use of narcotics and the protection of national parks.
The government-sponsored bills consist of three separate bills. One revises the SDF law to allow the SDF to seize land and other property for its own operations. It also exempts the SDF from various legal procedures to expand the scope of its activities in battlefields.
Another bill, if enacted, would allow the central government to give orders to local governments and designated public organizations in wartime. It would also require the central government to draw up basic emergency guidelines and prepare another package of bills to protect people's lives and rights during "a military attack situation."
The last of the three bills would add more members and roles to the Security Council to serve under the prime minister.