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Extension sought for extraordinary Diet session after foreign worker bill hits snag

The House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee room is seen empty as the panel failed to start deliberations on a bill to accept more foreign workers into Japan, in this photo taken on Nov. 16, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The government and ruling parties are making arrangements to extend the current extraordinary Diet session beyond Dec. 10 after a government-sponsored bill to accept more foreign workers into Japan hit a snag due to wrong data on foreign technical intern trainees.

The inaccurate data was found in the Justice Ministry's survey on foreign technical intern trainees who fled from their workplaces. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) executive meeting on Nov. 19 that the data mistake was "extremely regrettable." LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai stated, "It is natural for the government to be well prepared to advance Diet deliberations in a smooth manner."

The ruling bloc was to vote down a motion to dismiss the LDP's Yasuhiro Hanashi, chairman of the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee, in connection with the foreign worker bill during the chamber's plenary session on Nov. 20. The motion was submitted by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

A senior Diet affairs official of the LDP had boasted late last week that the committee could be convened on the night of Nov. 20 if the motion was voted down. However, opposition parties grilled the government on Nov. 19, with Kazunori Yamanoi of the Democratic Party for the People saying, "Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita had a wrong perception of the realities. The premise for starting deliberations on the bill has collapsed."

The ruling camp ended up deferring the start of deliberations on the bill to revise the immigration control law at the lower house judicial affairs panel to Nov. 21. While a senior LDP official defended the move, saying, "We must proceed with deliberations in a polite manner," the truth is that the government's blunder with the data error has made it difficult to forcibly put the bill to debate.

As Prime Minister Abe is set to travel abroad later this month, the ruling coalition is seeking to put the bill to a vote at a lower house plenary session on Nov. 27. However, opposition parties are poised to demand that a plenary session be held with Abe in attendance. If the lower house judicial affairs panel is thrown into turmoil and the bill fails to pass the lower chamber before Abe makes his trip overseas, the governing bloc has no choice but to extend the Diet session.

During the ordinary Diet session earlier this year, the lower house spent a total of 34 hours and 38 minutes on deliberating the work-style reform bill in its committee sessions, while the upper house spent 40 hours and 53 minutes. The corresponding figures for the bill to promote the development of casinos and other integrated resorts were 19 hours and 43 minutes for the lower chamber and 21 hours and 45 minutes for the upper chamber.

Based on these precedents, opposition parties are calling for securing sufficient time to deliberate the controversial foreign worker bill, and demanded joint screenings be held with other relevant committees such as the lower house health and labor panel.

As the government will be busy working on the fiscal 2019 budget compilation in December, many in the ruling camp believe it will be difficult to extend the Diet session until later that month. Nikai, however, told a press conference on Nov. 19, "We haven't come up with an answer yet" about the possible extension.

As an extraordinary Diet session can be extended twice, the ruling camp will wait and see how the deliberations in the legislature will unfold before finalizing a decision on the extension period.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe and Nozomu Takeuchi, Political News Department)

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