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Friday, April 13, 2007

Referendum bill OK'd

Staff writer

A key House of Representatives panel approved a bill Thursday to set procedures for a national referendum to revise the Constitution, despite the opposition parties' attempts to stop the vote by swarming the chairman.

With approval from the Lower House Special Committee for Research on the Constitution of Japan, which endorsed the bill with backing by the ruling bloc -- the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito -- the House of Representatives is expected to pass the bill Friday -- again on the strength of the ruling coalition's vote.

Members of the opposition camp, which wanted more deliberations on the bill, tried to disrupt the committee proceedings by swarming the committee chairman, Taro Nakayama, and tried to shout him down. Nakayama pleaded in vain with them to return to their seats, and in the end held the vote amid the chaos.

Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Hideo Hiraoka told reporters afterward that the vote should be invalidated.

"It is absurd that (the committee) forced an end" to deliberations, Hiraoka said. "The way the chairman carried on the Diet proceedings showed an extreme lack of neutrality."

Social Democratic Party lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto was also angry.

"I think (the way the vote was held) reflects the present political situation," Tsujimoto said. "What (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) wants to do is to break away from the postwar regime."

LDP lawmaker Okiharu Yasuoka said he was disappointed with the opposition lawmakers' behavior.

"The opposition parties (and the ruling bloc) have spent a long time discussing (the bill)," Yasuoka said. "But with (DPJ leader Ichiro) Ozawa's idea that it was the DPJ's bill or nothing, there was no point in deliberating the issue any further."

The LDP and DPJ had tried but failed Thursday morning to reach a compromise in last-minute negotiations.

According to Article 96 in the Constitution, any changes to the charter must have two-thirds of the vote in both houses of the Diet and then there must be a national referendum. But there is no legal framework to hold a referendum.

Abe has said he wants the referendum bill passed by the end of the Diet session in June. One of Abe's key goals is to revise the Constitution, which was drafted in 1947 during the Allied Occupation.

The ruling coalition submitted the referendum bill during the last ordinary Diet session. Last month, the two parties handed in a revised version after discussing points of disagreement with the opposition parties.

The current bill, which is limited to conditions for a referendum on the Constitution, has lowered the voting age to 18, from 20 on the first bill.

Critics have pointed out that one problem with the bill is it has not given a minimum turnout rate, meaning a small percentage of the population could end up making the decision about whether to change the Constitution.

The DPJ submitted its own referendum bill last May, but resubmitted it with several minor changes earlier this week.

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The Japan Times

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