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Diet Debate Begins on Conspiracy Bill

SNA (Tokyo) — House of Representatives debate on the Conspiracy Bill began yesterday. This controversial legislation has long been expected to become “the main event” of this Ordinary Diet Session as the government and the opposition parties draw battle lines. Like the Secrecy Bill of 2013 and the “War Bill” of 2015, this legislation is seen by critics as a core element of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to strip the current Constitution of effective meaning and to roll back the civil liberties that the Japanese people have enjoyed since the end of the Pacific War. In other words, they describe it as the contemporary reincarnation of the notorious 1925 Peace Preservation Law that was used to crack down on political opponents and labor unions.

This marks the fourth time that the Conspiracy Bill has been submitted to the Diet by the Liberal Democratic Party; the previous three occasions having come in the 2003-2005 period under then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Shinzo Abe, both in his short-lived first term of 2006-2007 and since his return to power in December 2012 has been a consistent advocate of the legislation. While his administrations have never yet actually submitted the legislation to the Diet, they are known to have been close to doing so several times before. Indeed, they almost did it in the Extraordinary Diet Session last autumn, before deciding to prioritize ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Advocates of the bill have shifted their justifications over time. Originally it was portrayed as a necessary step to fulfill the terms of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime that Japan signed in December 2000 but never ratified. Now, however, the Abe government portrays it almost exclusively as an effort to keep the public safe from terrorism ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Indeed, on the very first day of debate yesterday, Prime Minister Abe stated the precise argument that had been fully expected and telegraphed through the media for weeks in advance: “With three years to go until the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, fully taking measures against terrorism is a duty of the host nation,” Abe declared.

As the opposition parties and other groups such as the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have frequently pointed out, however, this legislation is not simply a bill that criminalizes planning for acts of terrorism. Komeito had at one point urged the Abe administration to limit it to terrorism, but their counsel was rejected. Instead, planning for 277 different offenses is criminalized under the bill, most of which have nothing to do with violence or terrorism or the 2020 Olympics. Indeed, even the word “terrorism” did not appear in the main text until the most recent draft.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga’s defense of the Conspiracy Bill is deliberately misleading, as a close reading of his own words reveals: “Terrorism-related incidents have occurred in various countries, and many people have been killed. It is necessary to take full-scale measures to prevent organized crime, including terrorist acts.”

“Organized crime,” of course, can be interpreted to include quite a bit more than the lethal acts of international terrorism that Suga cites.

At this point the trajectory of the Conspiracy Bill appears likely to follow the same route as the Secrecy Bill and the War Bill before it: Opinion polls will probably show a growing majority of the public opposing passage as debate proceeds; large popular protests will erupt near the Diet Building in Tokyo; there will be desperate efforts by the four liberal opposition parties to delay the parliamentary process as much as possible; and all of this will be followed by a defiant and forceful passage of the bill into law by the ruling coalition and its conservative allies.

Komeito executive Yoshio Urushibara stated yesterday that the ruling coalition expects to pass the Conspiracy Bill through House of Representatives before end of April, and then move on to the House of Councillors after the Golden Week holidays.