The ruling coalition chose to ram the "anti-conspiracy" bill through a plenary session of the House of Councillors by bypassing a vote at the chamber's Judicial Affairs Committee to make sure it became law during the current session.
The high-handed manner in which the governing bloc railroaded the bill without rectifying numerous flaws in the legislation comes as a surprise.
The revised Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds, which criminalizes preparation for terrorism and other crimes by changing the conditions that constitute conspiracy, has drastically changed the criminal legislation system as a whole.
The government has emphasized that revisions are necessary for Japan to sign the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
However, House of Representatives' deliberations on the bill failed to dispel concerns that such legislation could make regular citizens subject to police investigations, opening the way for a surveillance society.
The upper house should have fundamentally modified the bill by narrowing down the types of offenses subject under the legislation significantly in order to fulfill its responsibility for re-examining bills passed by the lower chamber.
Nevertheless, the government instead increased public concerns about the anti-conspiracy bill during upper house deliberations.
The executive branch had explained during the deliberation proceedings at the lower house that the conspiracy charge would be applicable to organized crime groups but not ordinary citizens. However, Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda later stated that those who are "around" organized crime groups could be punished under the legislation even if they are not members of such groups. His statement obscured the distinction between such criminal organizations and ordinary citizens.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emphasized prior to deliberations on the bill at the upper house that "we'll try to provide explanations that are easy to understand." But serious questions remain as to whether he has kept his promise.
Moreover, the governing coalition not only failed to modify the bill but also bypassed a vote at the upper house Judicial Affairs Committee -- an extremely unusual development.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) apparently avoided ramming the bill through the panel, chaired by a member of Komeito, in a bid to show consideration to its junior coalition partner, which attaches particular importance to the July Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. The campaign for the race kicks off next week. If the allegations are true, the LDP should be criticized for being too opportunistic.
A scandal involving plans by Kake Educational Institution, which is run by a close friend of Abe, to set up a veterinary school in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, is also believed to have influenced the ruling bloc's decision to ram the bill.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry launched a re-investigation of in-house documents, which allegedly mention the prime minister's "will" in the approval of the veterinary school. Now that the results of the probe are announced, opposition parties will likely intensify their attack on the government. One cannot help but suspect that the government hurriedly drew a curtain on the ongoing Diet session in a bid to divert public attention from the Kake scandal prior to the metropolitan assembly election.
If the governing bloc had truly aimed at enacting the anti-conspiracy bill during the current Diet session, it should have drastically extended the session to ensure in-depth debate on the bill. The upper house effectively relinquished its role by passing the bill into law without thorough discussion.