Last-minute conspiracy bill vote roils Diet

The opposition camp mounted a last-minute effort to stop the contentious conspiracy bill Wednesday by submitting a series of motions against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling camp after it threatened to ram the bill through the Diet by, in a rare move, bypassing committee-level approval.

Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner Komeito notified the opposition of their intention to skip a vote on the bill by the Upper House Committee on Judicial Affairs, which was originally planned for Thursday, and send it straight to the chamber’s plenary session for enactment. Speculation soon ensued the bill could be enacted early Thursday.

The prospect of the bill, which revises current anti-organized crime law, being steamrollered through the Diet drew the ire of opposition lawmakers, who swiftly asked Upper House President Chuichi Date to dismiss what they called the “heavy-handed” political maneuvering of the ruling camp.

“If the chairman allowed such a move, it would be tantamount to the Upper House committing suicide,” Yoshiki Yamashita, a senior Upper House member of the Japanese Communist Party, told reporters.

Although not illegal, the tactics adopted by the LDP are out of keeping with standard Diet protocol. Such maneuvering is typically reserved for when the ruling party wants to pass an important bill that, despite an adequate amount of time for it to be discussed at the committee level, faces stonewalling in a committee chaired by an opposition lawmaker who wants to delay the vote.

But this principle, opposition lawmakers said Wednesday, should not apply to the conspiracy bill, which has so far been deliberated in the Upper House for less than 20 hours and is being discussed in a committee chaired by a Komeito lawmaker. The Lower House passed the bill after 30 hours of deliberation.

“The ruling coalition is in a situation where it can easily call a vote on the bill at the committee. And yet, the pair threatened to unilaterally terminate committee-level deliberation and propel the bill straight to a plenary session. … That’s crazy,” said Toshio Ogawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party’s caucus in the chamber.

The DP, the JCP, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party pledged to take “all possible measures” to postpone the revised law’s enactment, possibly by submitting a no-confidence motion against Abe’s Cabinet. Although sure to be struck down by the ruling coalition, such a motion was expected to delay its enactment at least by a few hours.

The opposition camp submitted to the Upper House on Tuesday a nonbinding censure motion against Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, only to see it voted down.

The DP also submitted a similar motion against Junzo Yamamoto from the LDP as head of the Upper House’s steering committee.

Separately, the four parties submitted to the Lower House a no-confidence motion against education minister Hirokazu Matsuno over his reluctance to reopen an investigation into the existence of internal documents that show Abe exerted influence to help his close confidant open a new veterinary department in his university.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga sought to defend the bill as a much-needed boost to Japan’s ability to fight global terrorism as the nation gears up to host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The government argues the revised anti-organized crime law’s enactment is a prerequisite for Japan’s participation in the U.N.-designated convention against transnational organized crime.

In a May 18 letter addressed to Abe, Joseph Cannataci, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, expressed his concern over “the risks of arbitrary application of this legislation” that he said could impinge on the right to privacy and other fundamental civil liberties.

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