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Calls to extend extraordinary Diet session over foreign worker bill, constitution revision

House of Representatives members listen as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a policy speech at a plenary session of the House of Representatives on Oct. 24, 2018. (Mainichi/Tatsuro Tamaki)

TOKYO -- Calls for extending the current extraordinary session of the Diet have emerged within the government and ruling coalition as officials face a tight schedule for deliberating a bill to accept more foreign workers into Japan as well as constitutional revisions before the session comes to a close on Dec. 10.

With the passage of the fiscal 2018 supplementary budget, the focus of Diet proceedings has now shifted to the government-sponsored bill to revise the immigration control law to allow more foreign laborers in Japan to address acute labor shortages. Opposition parties are demanding thorough debate on the bill, calling it "half-baked" and "premature."

At a director meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Administration on Nov. 8, the ruling parties proposed putting the bill to revise the immigration control law to debate during the chamber's plenary session scheduled for Nov. 13. Opposition parties, however, demanded that the bill be designated as one requiring the attendance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for a question and answer session. As Abe is scheduled to travel abroad in mid-November and again later in the month, however, the ruling bloc intends not to designate the bill as such to secure a flexible deliberation schedule.

The ruling camp aims to table the bill for discussion in a Diet panel on Nov. 16 after starting deliberations at a lower house plenary session on Nov. 13 and following Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita's policy speech entailing a question and answer session at the chamber's Committee on Judicial Affairs. For the government to be able to introduce the new system to add more foreigners to the domestic workforce from April next year, the ruling bloc will need to see the bill pass the Diet during the current session.

At a party meeting on Nov. 8, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said, "We would like to move ahead to make sure the bill will be put to debate in the House of Councillors by the end of this month." Komeito is the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Prime Minister Abe.

Opposition parties are poised to resist the governing camp's move. "It is absolutely unacceptable to put the bill to debate on the assumption that it will pass the Diet during the current session," said Akira Nagatsuma, acting leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP). Even some within the ruling coalition are critical of the bill, with a legislator linked to the lower house judicial affairs committee calling it "completely half-cooked."

LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai had hinted at the possibility of extending the extraordinary Diet session beyond its 48-day period even before it was convened, saying, "We will consider the matter if we run short of time."

An official close to the government said, "It is impossible to pass the bill by the end of the current session. I hope the session will be extended by a week or so at least."

With regard to Prime Minister Abe's cherished goal of revising the postwar Constitution to write the Self-Defense Forces into the war-renouncing law, there are no prospects for the LDP to be able to submit its draft revision to the supreme law to the lower house Commission on the Constitution anytime soon. In order for the proposal to be made, a bill to revise the constitutional referendum law first needs to clear the Diet, but such a development is nowhere in sight. This is because opposition parties are calling for debate on regulations for TV commercials relating to the public referendum.

CDP leader Yukio Edano said, "We must first hold a question and answer session about voluntary regulations on TV commercials (on the constitutional referendum) by calling the chairman of the Japan Commercial Broadcasters Association to the lower house Commission on the Constitution." Another opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People, plans to submit its own bill to revise the constitutional referendum act to tighten regulations on such TV ads.

As the Commission on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet can meet only once a week, the LDP aspires to hold debate on the bill to revise the constitutional referendum law separately from the party's submission of its draft revision to the Constitution. However, there are no signs of the opposition bloc complying with the move.

A senior official with the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution expressed frustrations, saying, "I believe opposition parties are not opposed to (the bill to revise) the constitutional referendum law. I hope the bill will pass the Diet at an early date."

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe and Hiroyuki Tanaka, Political News Department)

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