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Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009
Opposition split on naval antipiracy dispatch off Somalia
The government plan to submit a bill in March to send Maritime Self-Defense Force ships off Somalia to join the fight against pirates is splitting the ranks of the Democratic Party of Japan and the rest of the opposition camp.
DPJ Vice President Seiji Maehara, an expert on security issues, said Thursday on the Asahi Newstar TV program that the mission would be best carried out by the MSDF instead of the Japan Coast Guard. He also suggested he supports a government plan to ease restrictions on the use of weapons.
On the other side of the fence, the Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People's New Party), both members of the opposition camp, are against the government's plan, arguing that piracy patrols are the responsibility of the coast guard, even though the JCG has little in terms of long-range, armed vessels with aircraft support, unlike the well-equipped, highly armed MSDF.
"It is questionable for the government to say it would be difficult" for the coast guard to handle the job and instead try to send the MSDF without sufficient discussion, SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima said in a statement Wednesday after the Defense Ministry ordered the MSDF to prepare to be dispatched.
Fukushima also criticized the government for taking advantage of this opportunity to widen the scope for Self-Defense Forces dispatches overseas.
Ideally, the DPJ wants to avoid a conflict with the two parties, which it needs to secure a majority in the Upper House. A general election also must be held no later than the fall.
At a meeting of the three parties' secretaries general earlier this month, DPJ Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama said his party would try to find common ground with the SDP and Kokumin Shinto over the mission to fight piracy.
But it would be hard to find a consensus even within the DPJ, whose members span the political spectrum.
Speaking on the TV program, Maehara said he realizes Hatoyama is in a bind as a mediator in the opposition camp, but added the DPJ does not necessarily have to be on the same page as other opposition parties on this point.
"I think our party should first discuss its own stance on this issue, and then seek a compromise with other opposition parties," he said.
Asked how he will work out the differences, Hatoyama on Friday only said that the key question at this point is that the government is still unclear about why it is sending the MSDF instead of the Japan Coast Guard.