TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) pushed ahead with a meeting of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution on Nov. 29 while key opposition parties boycotted the session.
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Commission head and LDP lawmaker Eisuke Mori opened the panel's first session of the current extraordinary Diet session at his own discretion.
Though the move guaranteed the commission would meet at least once during the current session, set to end on Dec. 10, it has also intensified the governing coalition's conflict with opposition parties. This in turn has dealt a further blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to hasten deliberations toward his long-cherished goal of amending the pacifist postwar Constitution.
The Nov. 29 meeting was attended by members of the LDP, its junior coalition partner Komeito, two conservative opposition parties -- Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Party of Hope -- as well as Mirai Nippon, a lower house parliamentary alliance. The meeting ended after just one minute following the election of the panel's leading members.
The LDP's Yoshitaka Shindo, elected the top representative of the ruling bloc on the panel, sought public understanding of the coalition's election of leading commission members without the main opposition parties present. He told a news conference following the gathering that he decided to open the meeting "to fulfill the commission's responsibility to the public."
The LDP was desperate to push stalled constitutional amendment discussions forward.
Prime Minister and LDP leader Abe had aimed to guarantee the party would present a draft of a new Constitution -- including the stipulation of the existence of the Self-Defense Forces -- to other parties during the ongoing Diet session.
However, Hakubun Shimomura, head the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, has criticized key opposition parties refusing to discuss constitutional reform for "walking off the job," angering opposition legislators.
As the end of the Diet session draws near, concerns had been growing within the LDP that the lower house Commission on the Constitution would neither be able to present the party's draft nor hold even a single meeting during the session.
The panel managed to select its leading members, but the ruling bloc will likely be forced to pay a political price for pushing ahead with the meeting without key opposition parties in attendance. Diet affairs chiefs from six opposition groups have protested the move to Hiroshi Moriyama, their counterpart in the LDP.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief for the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), accused the governing bloc of "breaking established rules," and warned that "debate on the Constitution will be delayed by 100 years as a result."
Opposition parties also protested a blunder in which the ruling coalition opened the panel meeting even as a panel member representing the opposition Democratic Party for the People (DPP) was asking questions in another Diet committee. "It's extremely sloppy," said the DPP's Kazuhiro Haraguchi.
Moriyama stated later, "We were unable to properly control the panel. I'm sorry." However, his apology has not convinced opposition legislators.
Japanese Communist Party (JCP) Chairman Kazuo Shii asserted that the LDP had pushed ahead with the panel meeting on Abe's wishes, and that "it was an outrageous move led by the prime minister's office."
The six opposition groups are poised to reject the ruling bloc's plan to convene the next commission meeting on Dec. 6.
The lower house panel has failed to deliberate a bill to revise the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan since the beginning of the current Diet session. The pros and cons of restricting TV advertising calling on the public to vote for or against constitutional revisions in a referendum also need to be addressed.
Komeito is not enthusiastic about constitutional revisions, though it is part of the ruling coalition. "We can open a meeting of the Commission on the Constitution without the attendance of opposition legislators, but only select leading members," said Komeito deputy leader Kazuo Kitagawa.
With regard to the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan, Kitagawa said, "We can at least have a question-and-answer session on the bill during the current session and put it to a vote right away in the next Diet session."
Under the circumstances, even a close aide to Prime Minister Abe admitted that the LDP "can't even deal with the Act on Procedures for Amendment of the Constitution of Japan or present a draft of constitutional revisions during the current Diet session."
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)