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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007

MSDF bill clears lower chamber

Upper House veto seen, may spur rare override

Staff writers

The ruling bloc-dominated House of Representatives passed a special antiterrorism bill Tuesday to allow the Maritime Self-Defense Force to resume its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, but the opposition camp vowed to kill the measure in the Upper House.

The bill was pushed through the Lower House plenary session just before Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's visit to the United States, where he will meet Friday with President George W. Bush.

The opposition-controlled House of Councilors now has up to 60 days to deliberate the measure before it must be put to a vote. Opposition lawmakers are saying there is not enough time to debate the bill and put it to a vote by the Dec. 15 end of the current Diet session, which has already been extended once.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc would then be forced to either extend the Diet session a second time or allow the bill to die. By law, an extraordinary session can only be extended twice.

The opposition camp has not said whether it will let the bill languish or vote it down outright. Either would be a veto, in effect. The ruling bloc can override this veto by passing the measure with a two-thirds vote in the Lower House.

Some LDP lawmakers have begun hinting at this option. Other ruling bloc lawmakers, however, are reluctant to use such forceful means because the opposition, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, has been threatening to submit a censure motion in the Upper House against the Fukuda Cabinet.

"Even if the LDP has the two-thirds majority to override the Upper House, it in fact cannot use that weapon whenever it wants," said Jiro Yamaguchi, a political science professor at Hokkaido University.

If the opposition parties submit the censure motion, many lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps believe Fukuda would have no choice but to dissolve the Lower House and call a general election.

Fukuda's predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who suddenly resigned in September due to illness and a Diet stalemate over the bill, voted in the plenary session. He has been absent from the Diet since Sept. 25, when he voted for Fukuda as the next prime minister.

During the session, LDP lawmaker Yasutoshi Nishimura stressed the importance of the bill.

"The 9/11 terrorist attack in the U.S. in 2001 was an inhuman, cruel incident that claimed 2,973 lives, including 24 Japanese," Nishimura said. "The war on terrorism is also an issue for Japan's security."

The special law was submitted to the Diet last month to replace the previous antiterrorism law, which expired Nov. 1 due to the opposition camp's efforts. Because the new bill has not been passed, the MSDF was forced to withdraw from the Indian Ocean.

The first special antiterrorism law was enacted in November 2001 to permit the MSDF deployment following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.

"The (antiterrorism) bill is one that continues (support) for an unconstitutional retaliatory war and absolutely cannot be approved," Seiken Akamine of the Japanese Communist Party said during the plenary session.

Passing the bill is Fukuda's prime goal right now and the ruling bloc has pulled out all the stops to ensure the measure prevails.

DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa has repeatedly stated his opposition to the bill, saying the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation is not officially authorized by the United Nations and is therefore unconstitutional.

The ruling bloc "has not offered a clear and precise interpretation of the Constitution" to determine whether the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces is legal, Ozawa said after the bill was passed.

"The government has not offered a clear explanation both within and outside Japan, and dispatching the military overseas simply out of temporary needs will endanger the country," he said.

The DPJ is preparing a counterproposal bill to allow the dispatch of SDF troops for civilian aid operations in Afghanistan. DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama told reporters he is not sure whether the party will finalize the bill but noted it is in the draft process.

The measure would also consider Japan's participation in OEF-MIO if it is eventually officially approved by the U.N., which earlier merely welcomed the mission.

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The Japan Times

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