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Ruling bloc desperate to enact foreign worker bill by end of current Diet session

Bureaucrats prepare responses to be delivered by Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita to questions on a bill to amend the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to accept more foreign workers into Japan, during a House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee session on Dec. 4, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The governing coalition is desperate to ensure that a bill aimed at accepting more foreign workers into Japan to help alleviate serious labor shortages is enacted by the end of the current Diet session on Dec. 10, even at the expense of other key policy issues.

The bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act has cleared the House of Representatives and is now before the House of Councillors.

The coalition, comprising the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, won't compromise its intention to enact the bill even at the expense of abandoning submitting bills that could provoke opposition parties or convening the upper chamber's Commission on the Constitution.

In the upper house Judicial Affairs Committee on Nov. 29, Gaku Hasegawa of the LDP and Takae Ito of Komeito spent only about 40 minutes in total asking questions about the proposed revisions to the immigration law even though a combined one hour and 40 minutes had been allotted to them.

On Dec. 4, the LDP and Komeito cut their allocated questioning time by a total of an hour and gave it to opposition parties.

At a meeting of directors of the panel on Dec. 4, Yoshifu Arita of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) representing the opposition camp asked the ruling bloc if the amount of time ruling coalition legislators failed to spend on questioning is included in the total time spent on deliberations. Takamaro Fukuoka of the LDP who represents the ruling bloc responded he thought so.

The opposition bloc, which is against the proposed revisions, has demanded that a sufficient amount of time be secured for debate on the bill. In response, the governing coalition has adopted a strategy of including time that ruling bloc legislators failed to spend in its total time of deliberations.

Masakazu Sekiguchi, the Diet affairs chief in the LDP's upper house caucus, told a news conference on Nov. 4, "Upper house discussions on the bill are better in quality than lower chamber debate on the matter."

The ruling coalition has also postponed deliberations on other policy issues to prioritize the enactment of immigration law revisions during the current Diet session.

Naoki Okada of the LDP, who represents the ruling bloc in the upper house's Commission on the Constitution, met with his counterpart in the opposition camp, Shinkun Haku of the CDP, to propose to convene a meeting of the commission on Nov. 5 to discuss revisions to the supreme law. However, as Haku showed a reluctance to comply, Okada quickly abandoned opening a meeting.

Okada did not go ahead with a constitutional panel session to avoid provoking opposition parties. In the lower house, the LDP pushed ahead with a meeting of the chamber's Commission on the Constitution on Nov. 29, stirring protests from opposition parties.

"The latest move is to avoid provoking opposition parties any further and prioritize the enactment of revisions to the immigration law," said a senior member of the LDP.

LDP Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hiroshi Moriyama has also underscored the importance of showing consideration to opposition parties in convening the lower chamber's constitutional panel. "We'd like to prioritize discussions with the attendance of all the parties and parliamentary groups," he said.

The ruling bloc, which is already under fire for increasing the number of seats in the upper chamber by six to help rectify the vote-value disparity, had intended to submit a bill to cut upper house members' monthly salaries by 77,000 yen per person during the current session. However, the coalition has decided to delay such action to next year's regular session because opposition parties are against the move.

"In the first place, the problem originated in the increase in the number of upper house seats by six," said CDP leader Yukio Edano.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department)

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