” The Upper House passed the highly contentious state secrets protection bill into law on Dec. 6, despite the paucity of debate and lack of safeguards on the designation process.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, railroaded the legislation through the Upper House plenary meeting on Dec. 6 amid increasingly vehement protests from opposition parties and the public.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was conspicuously absent when the debate was heating up, an indication of his confidence that his party, together with New Komeito, has the requisite votes to clear it through the full Upper House.
During an Upper House special committee session on Dec. 5, Hiroo Ishii, an LDP lawmaker, submitted a motion after 4 p.m. to end discussion on the bill and call for a vote, over the shouts of opposition party members.
“It is typical of the ruling party’s arrogance,” yelled one opposition legislator. “It is tantamount to declaring that the opposition’s voice does not need to be heard,” said another.
Committee members from Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party left the meeting in protest before the vote, arguing the bill has yet to be debated fully.
Kazuo Shii, chief of the Japanese Communist Party, described the ruling coalition’s behavior as “tyrannical, arrogant and disorderly.”
The ruling coalition believed prolonging the Diet debate any longer could backfire, only fueling the mushrooming opposition to the bill, and lead to a further decline in approval ratings for Abe’s Cabinet and hold on power.
An Asahi Shimbun survey taken between Nov. 30-Dec. 1 showed the Cabinet’s approval rating at 49 percent, dipping below 50 percent for the first time since he took power in December 2012.
Officials in the Abe administration foresee the public eventually forgetting about the controversy, once the legislation is approved.
The bill, submitted to the Diet on Oct. 25, aims to tighten control of sensitive information in such areas as diplomacy, defense, anti-spying and antiterrorism as state secrets. Those found guilty of leaking the secrets could face up to 10 years in prison.
One of the most controversial points of the bill is that it allows bureaucrats and elected officials to arbitrarily widen their interpretations of what they deem to be state secrets.
And it has no definite mechanism for an independent panel to verify whether these designations are appropriate, although the government has announced plans to form a “third-party” body to oversee this process.
Critics say the bill seriously undermines the public’s right to know and freedom of information.
“The bill is of the bureaucrat, by the bureaucrat and for the bureaucrat to hide information,” said Banri Kaieda, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.
The LDP’s dominance of the two chambers of the Diet, along with New Komeito, is driving the governing parties’ high-handed approach to getting the bill passed during the current Diet session.
The ruling coalition rammed the bill through the Lower House on Nov. 26, after about 45 hours of discussion, which critics say is too short for such a weighty issue.
It snubbed the DPJ’s proposals to clarify the definition of state secrets, lighten the penalty for those found guilty of leaking secrets and for those who tried to elicit sensitive information.
The discussion at the Upper House special committee was even shorter, lasting only about 22 hours.
Abe attended one special committee meeting over the bill in each chamber, adding up to about four hours altogether.
When Kaieda accused him of not explaining the bill fully during the debate of party leaders on Dec. 4, Abe said, “I attended the special committee meeting this morning and answered questions.”
On the night of Dec. 5, when the Diet was plunged in turmoil after the ruling coalition forced the vote on the bill in the special committee earlier that day, the prime minister showed up at a barbecue restaurant in Tokyo’s Yotsuya district to attend a welcoming party for a new aide.
Abe, buoyed by his high approval ratings for his economic policies, set out to enact legislation aimed to spur the nation’s economic growth during the current Diet session.
Opposition to the state secrets bill, however, turned out to be fiercer than he had anticipated, forcing him to take a hard-line approach.
The government also has other important issues such as negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and compile budget proposals during the remainder of the year.
The Abe administration has approached the legislation from the outset in a hurried and overbearing manner, as well as being heavy-handed.
The administration released the outline of the bill on Sept. 3 and solicited comments from that day through Sept. 17, a period half as long as usually conducted on important legislation.
Seventy-seven percent of about 90,000 public comments received were opposed to the bill. ”