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Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008
Lower House opens debate on MSDF bill
By MASAMI ITO
The Lower House on Friday began deliberating the government's special antiterrorism bill for extending the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.
It also kicked off debate on another contentious bill that would allow SDF troops to be dispatched for support activities in Afghanistan. The bill is sponsored by the Democratic Party of Japan.
The opposition-controlled Upper House is set to reject the MSDF bill, but the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is expected to force its passage by holding a rare second vote in the Lower House, where it holds a two-thirds majority.
It is expected to ram the bill through the Lower House as early as Oct. 21.
Political insiders meanwhile are anxiously waiting to see if Prime Minister Taro Aso will dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election in November — a right that remains solely with him.
With the ¥1.8 trillion extra budget on course to back up the government's emergency economic stimulus package next week, Aso could decide to dissolve the Lower House this month or in early November. But LDP heavyweights say that if it doesn't happen in November, it could easily be delayed until spring.
During the Lower House special committee on antiterrorism measures, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said that many countries value the mission being conducted by the MSDF, which has been refueling multinational warships engaged in counterterrorism operations in the Indian Ocean.
"The threat caused by terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, has not yet been removed and the international society's war on terror still continues," Kawamura said. "The bill is necessary . . . for our country to actively contribute to the international society to prevent and eradicate international terrorism."
The special refueling law expires Jan. 15. The bill would extend it for another year.
At the same meeting, DPJ policy chief Masayuki Naoshima said the purpose of the DPJ's bill is to help rebuild war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The bill limits the dispatch of SDF troops and civilians to such missions as disarmament, medical assistance and transportation and distribution of goods.
"By basic principle, the activities to assist in the restoration of Afghanistan must not execute military power nor cause threat through force of arms," Naoshima said. "And humanitarian relief measures must only be conducted in areas where a ceasefire has been agreed upon."
The DPJ's bill was approved by the Upper House in January and immediately handed over to the lower chamber, despite opposition from the ruling bloc, the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. The legislation has been pending in the Lower House ever since.
Hoping to pressure Aso to call a snap election soon, the DPJ has voiced support for getting a vote on the antiterrorism bill done in both houses quickly, even if it votes against it.
"The DPJ has given us a sign that it will not pointlessly draw out the deliberations on the antiterrorism bill," LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda said at a news conference Friday. "But we must make sure the bill lands properly and I will watch over the deliberations in the Lower House."
But if Aso does not call the election soon, the DPJ-led opposition parties may change their minds and delay it.
Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, voiced hope Thursday that Japan will continue its antiterrorism refueling mission in the Indian Ocean next year in a meeting with Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, a Japanese official said.
Hamada was quoted as telling Keating that Prime Minister Taro Aso's administration will boost its efforts so that a government-sponsored bill aimed at extending the contentious mission can clear the Diet soon.
Hamada and Keating met at a time when it is highly likely the bill will clear the legislature later this month with the backing of Aso's ruling coalition.
"I sincerely hope that Japan is able to continue its commitment to support our Operation Enduring Freedom," Keating told a news conference earlier in the day, referring to the refueling mission by the Maritime Self-Defense Force for U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.
The temporary law authorizing the refueling mission to help the U.S.-led crackdown on boats allegedly linked to terrorism activities expires Jan. 15.
Keating, speaking at the news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, expressed hope that Japan would contribute in unspecified ground missions in Afghanistan, including possible dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces units there.
"I am confident that he (the local commander in Afghanistan) is happy to consider contributions, like Japanese boots on the ground, helicopters, whatever it is Japan could choose," Keating said.