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Differences between parties over constitutional revisions highlighted in Diet debate

Debate at a House of Representatives plenary session on Nov. 20 highlighted a confrontation between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and two key opposition parties -- the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the Party of Hope -- over constitutional revisions.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored the importance of Diet debate on constitutional reform to spur national debate on the issue.

"It is important for the Diet to deepen discussions on the issue and eventually help deepen the public's understanding," Abe told the session.

CDP leader Yukio Edano voiced opposition to Abe's proposal to add a paragraph stipulating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Article 9 while retaining war-renouncing paragraph 1 and paragraph 2, which bans Japan from possessing any "war potential."

Edano pointed out that the security legislation, which has opened the way for Japan's limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense, runs counter to constitutionalism.

He then said, "If the SDF were to be explicitly stipulated under the current circumstances, it would lead to adaptation of the Constitution (to the convenience of those seeking the revision)."

Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Party of Hope, also raised questions about the prime minister's proposal.

"I can't help but have a strange feeling. Discussions calling for simply defining the SDF without clarifying the scope of the right to self-defense or conditions are extremely insincere," Tamaki told the chamber.

The two opposition leaders cited stipulation of the right to know and restrictions on the prime minister's right to dissolve the lower house as items that should be discussed. However, the prime minister stopped short of giving any specific reply.

Prime Minister Abe reiterated that he will continue to provide a thorough explanation on favoritism scandals involving two school corporations -- Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.

"I received many questions about these matters during public debate for the (Oct. 22) lower house election, and I provided thorough explanations in response to all of those questions. My intention to continue to do so remains unchanged," he said.

With regard to the allocation of time for Diet questioning, over which ruling and opposition parties are in conflict, Abe suggested that he is in favor of increasing the time allocated to the ruling bloc, while emphasizing that he was only talking in general terms.

"Legislators belonging to ruling and opposition parties should not only be engaged in activities within their respective parties but also fulfill their responsibility as Diet members to respond to public mandate," the prime minister said.

Prime Minister Abe declared in his policy speech before both chambers on Nov. 17 that his government will make preschool education and day care services for children aged 3-5 and for children from low-income families aged up to 2 free of charge.

The prime minister did not clarify whether the government will make services at day care facilities that have not been officially approved by authorities under the Child Welfare Act free.

"The government has never decided to exclude unregistered facilities from the program to make day care services free," he said.

Abe argued that the zero nuclear power policy being pursued by the CDP and some other opposition parties "can't be called a responsible energy policy."

The prime minister was responding to questions from Edano, Tamaki and LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida.

This is the first substantive Diet debate between ruling and opposition parties since the end of this year's regular session that ended in June. This is also the first time that the prime minister has responded to questions from legislators in the Diet since an out-of-session meeting on the Kake case and other matters in late July.

Debate in the plenary sessions of both chambers on Prime Minister Abe's policy speech will last until Nov. 22.

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