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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008

Lower House rams through antiterrorism bill

Rarely used vote lets MSDF resume mission

Staff writer

For the first time in half a century, the Lower House on Friday overrode the Upper, ramming a bill through the Diet to resume the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling duty in the Indian Ocean.

News photo
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda smiles at Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba before voting on a special antiterrorism bill Friday in the Lower House. AP PHOTO

With the bill's passage, MSDF vessels, which halted their refueling activities after the previous antiterrorism law expired last Nov. 1, will leave Japan at the end of January, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said.

The flotilla will resume providing fuel and water to multinational naval ships engaged in the U.S.-led counterterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan in February, according to a senior government official.

The opposition-controlled Upper House voted down the antiterrorism bill Friday morning. The Lower House then held a second vote on the bill, which it had previously cleared on Nov. 13.

It is the first time since 1951 that legislation has been passed and enacted by a second vote in the Lower House after being rejected by the upper chamber.

Amid angry shouts from members of the opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc collected the two-thirds majority needed, as stipulated under Article 59 of the Constitution, and passed the special antiterrorism bill. Of the 480 lawmakers in the Lower House, 340 — more than two-thirds — voted for the bill.

The two-thirds vote "is stipulated in the Constitution and there's no reason why (we) shouldn't do it," LDP Secretary General Bunmei Ibuki said.

During a Lower House plenary session Friday afternoon, Yoshito Sengoku, a lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, accused the ruling bloc of abusing its power.

"There is no concrete reason why the Lower House should reject the opinion of the Upper House and force the enactment" of the antiterrorism bill, Sengoku said. "It is an abuse of power . . . and constitutionally dubious, and (we) must harshly pursue the political responsibility" of the ruling bloc.

However, the DPJ-led opposition camp is not likely to use its Upper House majority to push censure motion against Fukuda — as was earlier speculated — given that the nonbinding motion is not expected to compel the prime minister to dissolve the Lower House.

After the passage of the antiterrorism bill, former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, an independent lawmaker and one-time member of the LDP, expressed her disappointment at the bill's passage, saying it runs counter to international opinion.

"I think that the Iraq war itself has been disavowed," said Tanaka. Passing the bill "means that Japan is still contributing to the U.S., and not cooperating with the international community."

Expressing the opposite view was Tadamori Oshima, Diet affairs chief of the LDP.

"I am deeply moved by the passage (of the antiterrorism bill), which had been the key issue in both the (Shinzo) Abe and Fukuda Cabinets," Oshima told reporters. "We . . . have the responsibility to fulfill our duties to the international community (because) that would also be in the interest of the people and our nation."

Oshima, however, denied there were any specific plans to submit a permanent law to dispatch the SDF for multinational operations to the next regular Diet session that starts Jan. 18.

The notion of a permanent law is a response to criticism that the need to periodically enact a special law makes dispatching Self-Defense Forces units overseas too laborious and slow.

The Diet instead should first turn its attention to the scandal-tainted Defense Ministry, Oshima said.

The official closing date for the extraordinary Diet session is Tuesday, but Friday was the de facto finish.

Fukuda can finally let out a small sigh of relief that his key goal — the antiterrorism bill — was passed. To this end, he had extended the Diet session twice — the maximum number of times allowed — for the first time in 19 years.

In a statement, Fukuda again stressed the importance of the legislation for Japan. "Our country can only enjoy prosperity in a peaceful and stable international community," he said. "And it is necessary to actively cooperate in the war on terrorism of our own accord and contribute to the international community."

After his predecessor, Abe, stepped down abruptly in September, Fukuda had trouble passing bills in a divided Diet. What was once a simple procedure has become difficult since the opposition parties took control of the Upper House in a landslide election victory last July.

For nearly two months since the extraordinary Diet session began in September, no laws were enacted. Driven into a corner, Fukuda even considered a "grand coalition" with the DPJ but this was rejected.

Dogged by the pension-record debacle and Defense Ministry scandals, the support rate for Fukuda's Cabinet dropped to 35.3 percent in mid-December, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Fukuda and the ruling bloc groped for a way out and were able to create some bills that satisfied other parties, including one to provide relief for hepatitis C patients and the freshly revised Political Funds Control Law. "I think (the Diet session) was a good lesson for both the DPJ and the LDP," Ibuki said.

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The Japan Times

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