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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007

Ruling bloc, in rare twist, hands MSDF bill to opposition


Staff writer

The ruling coalition Friday submitted to the opposition camp the draft of a new bill to continue the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan — a key goal of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in the current Diet session.

The government plans to introduce the new bill, which will narrow the scope of the ongoing mission of MSDF vessels, as the current special law enabling the mission expires Nov. 1.

But with only weeks to go before the current law's expiration, it is certain the MSDF mission will have to be halted until the new legislation is approved by a divided Diet.

With the Upper House now controlled by the opposition camp, the ruling coalition took the rare step of presenting the draft to the opposition parties before adopting a final version of the bill.

During talks with the opposition camp Friday afternoon, the ruling bloc said it wants to create a consultative body with the opposition side to reach a consensus on the bill before it is formally submitted to the Diet, said Kenji Yamaoka, chief of the Democratic Party of Japan's Diet affairs committee.

But the proposal was rejected by the opposition lawmakers, who said such discussions should be held openly in the Diet after the bill is formally approved by the Cabinet, according to Yamaoka.

The DPJ, which emerged as the No. 1 opposition force in the upper chamber following the July election, has repeatedly expressed its opposition to continuing the MSDF mission.

"(The outline) was presented as a tentative proposal for discussion between the ruling and opposition parties," said Taku Yamasaki, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker who heads the ruling bloc's project team on the antiterrorism law.

The government draft limits the MSDF's activities to refueling and supplying water to the coalition naval ships taking part in the antiterrorism operation.

The current law, adopted in 2001 following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, also allows the MSDF ships to engage in search and rescue missions for members of a foreign military and also support refugees.

The proposed legislation would be valid for two years, and the government would be required to report to the Diet on the MSDF's activities one year after the law starts.

The government draft, however, omits the need for Diet approval for the dispatch of MSDF vessels to the mission under the new legislation — which was required under the 2001 law.

Government officials say the requirement will no longer be necessary because the mission's scope will be limited, and argue that Diet approval of the law itself should be deemed the legislature's endorsement of the mission as well.

The Diet's approval would require the mission's endorsement by the opposition-controlled Upper House.

But ruling bloc lawmakers are still divided over the omission, which the opposition parties have protested will threaten civilian control of the military.

New Komeito, the LDP's coalition ally, has also argued that the duration of the new law be limited to one year.

"We need to hear what the opposition parties have to say," said Gen Nakatani, an LDP lawmaker and former chief of the Defense Agency. "We hope to reach a final decision based on the deliberations in the Diet and public opinion."

DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa has repeatedly stressed that he is against the MSDF mission because the operation it supports — the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation — is not officially approved by the United Nations.

The ruling bloc and the government, however, argue that the OEF-MIO activities have the U.N.'s seal of approval because they are mentioned in previous U.N. resolutions.

Even if the new bill is rejected by the Upper House, the ruling bloc can technically still ram it through the Diet. Under Article 59 of the Constitution, if a bill is rejected and handed back to the Lower House, it can still be approved with a two-thirds vote in the chamber, a majority the ruling coalition holds.



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