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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Referendum bill set back by surprise DPJ snub


Staff writer

The head of the largest opposition party threw a wet blanket on the ruling bloc's planned show of solidarity for a bill paving the way for a referendum on amending the Constitution, saying he is reluctant to sign on, sources said Wednesday.

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa's move Tuesday dimmed prospects for the controversial bill, which the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito coalition wants to submit to the regular Diet session before it ends June 18.

"We have our own views and demands," Ozawa reportedly said, noting the DPJ differs with the ruling bloc on specifics, including the age at which people should be allowed to vote in the referendum. "We need to handle the bill based on our own ideas."

Senior officials from the ruling parties met Wednesday and decided to confirm the DPJ's position before making a decision on whether to present the bill on their own.

Some LDP members indicated the bill should be submitted without DPJ support, but New Komeito officials said they want broad backing for any movement to revise the Constitution.

"A certain degree of trust was fostered during (past) discussions (among the three parties). I hope the parties will continue discussions, based on this process," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a regular news conference Wednesday, responding to Ozawa's comments.

The Constitution states that amendments must be approved by referendum. However, the legal framework for such a vote has never been established in the more than half century since the charter took effect.

Politicians from all parties have been calling for amendments -- most contentious of these being a revision to Article 9 to make official Japan's use of a military for self-defense and to allow its active participation in international disputes. Enacting legislation on how to hold a referendum is the first step toward that goal.

Because of the connection, huge public debate is expected when the bill is finally submitted. The ruling bloc and DPJ had thus been working to submit a bill acceptable to most so it can move quickly through the Diet when debate begins.



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The Japan Times

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