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Saturday, June 20, 2009
Antipiracy, gift tax bills enacted
By MASAMI ITO
The ruling bloc rammed three key bills through the Lower House Friday, including a permanent antipiracy law that lets the Maritime Self-Defense Force protect ships of any nationality and have greater latitude in the use of force, and a relaxed gift tax so parents can give their offspring funds to buy a home.
Although the antipiracy bill, the tax reform bill and a revision of the pension law were all rejected by the opposition-controlled Upper House Friday morning, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition rammed them through a revote in the lower chamber using its two-thirds majority.
With these key bills out of the way, the focus of attention shifts back to Prime Minister Taro Aso to see if and when he will dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap election.
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura brushed off poll speculation in a news conference Friday.
"It is disappointing that we had to hold a second vote . . . but the result was produced by holding discussions in the Diet and we should consider it an achievement and welcome" the enactments, Kawamura said. "But we don't think there is any connection between the enactments and the dissolution of the Lower House."
The other two bills rammed through Friday are the revision of the National Pension Law, which would increase the government's contribution to the national pension scheme from one-third to one-half in fiscal 2009, and the tax reform bill that would reduce the gift tax for a limited period of time, and thus make it easier, for example, for parents to give their offspring money to buy a house.
The passage of the three bills may be a milestone for the Aso Cabinet, but given its sinking support ratings, it is unclear whether Aso will be in a strong enough position to call an election before the fall.
A dissolution of the Lower House would inevitably affect Diet deliberations on key legislative items, including a bill now in the works to allow inspections of North Korean ships.
In addition, a bill to widen the scope of organ transplants cleared the Lower House Thursday, and political insiders say it will be difficult to dissolve the House of Representatives before its enactment.
The revised organ transplant law recognizes brain death as legal death and scraps the age limit for donors to pave the way for transplants involving children.
During Friday's Lower House plenary session, Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Hideo Hiraoka criticized the government-sponsored antipiracy bill, reiterating the DPJ position that prior Diet approval must be necessary before the MSDF is deployed on such missions, like the one the navy is currently engaged in.
The bill only requires the prime minister to report an outline of the mission to the Diet after authorizing the dispatch. Details to be reported include why the deployment is necessary, as well as its location and duration.