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The gov't must win the public's trust, even if means taking the long route

A major bill was railroaded through a House of Representatives committee yet again, even as numerous questions about its content and implications remain. Is there a guarantee that the public's human rights will not be violated? Is this truly an effective counterterrorism measure?

The bill in question -- a bill to revise the Act for Punishment of Organized Crimes and Control of Crime Proceeds -- is a slightly altered version of anti-conspiracy bills of the past, which aimed to punish those who engaged in the preparatory stages of a crime, but with a new "counterterrorism" twist. Listening to Diet deliberations of the bill, one cannot help but notice the similarities to how new security legislation was passed in the fall of 2015.

The purpose of the security legislation, it was said, was to address the situation surrounding North Korea and China. The so-called anti-conspiracy bill has been pushed forth by the government under the pretext of being a counterterrorism measure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Both of these causes are hard to oppose, but the public is not convinced that either of the laws would achieve what they purport to do.

The two cases are similar also in that they leave a lot of room for interpretation. The anti-conspiracy bill would, if passed, allow for the punishment of "organized crime groups" if they plan and "prepare to carry out" one of 277 offenses. The government has explained that "ordinary people" will not be subject to conspiracy investigations, but what constitute "organized crime groups" and "preparations to carry out" offenses is unclear, ultimately leaving investigative bodies to decide.

What evidence is there that we can trust the government's explanation that, unlike the three anti-conspiracy bills that were scrapped in the past, the bill currently under deliberation has no room for abuse because the people and offenses that are subject to it have been narrowed down? The only way to clear our doubts and concerns and gain our trust is through exhaustive debate in the Diet.

Instead, however, the government has chosen to sit back with a smug grin because of the ruling coalition's majority in both houses of the Diet, forgoing any real effort to gain that trust. Cabinet ministers have made inconsistent statements, preventing any deep discussion from taking place. The legislature has become not a forum for active debate, but a mere rubber-stamping arm of the government. We have just the facade of true democracy, not its reality.

Even if it takes multiple sessions of the Diet, deliberations should be carried out until the majority of the public understands and accepts the arguments. Politics led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has a tendency to be heavy-handed and rushed. Taking the roundabout but thorough route should be, in the long term, in the best interest of the administration. What is in question here is the quality of our democracy. (By Chiyako Sato, Managing Editor, Political News Department)

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