Government Railroads Secrets Bill

The State Secrets Protection Bill (6.12.2013)

The Wall Street Journal
December 5, 2013

Japan’s Government Railroads Controversial Secrets Bill


No amount of heckling, arm flailing, or banging on a committee chairman’s desk could stop the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe railroading a controversial state intelligence bill through a parliamentary debate Thursday.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images Masaharu Nakagawa, left, chairman of Japanese parliamentary committee, announces the approval of a controversial bill for a new secrecy law on Dec. 5, as lawmakers of opposition parties protest.

In ramming the draft legislation through a special committee on national security, Mr. Abe made abundantly clear he was willing to use the force of greater numbers in his drive to strengthen national security, a tactic he could use again for other parts of his policy agenda.

Just a week after the bill was sent to the upper house of Japan’s parliament for discussion after its passage in the lower house, a vote in the upper chamber is all the bill needs for enactment. Debate by the committee was cut short by Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition, leaving opposition members crowding around the committee chairman’s desk in uproar.

But having secured a comfortable majority in both parliamentary chambers in national elections over the last year, Mr. Abe has a free hand to pass virtually any bill in parliament. Still, governing parties in Japan are usually careful to work with the opposition to build a consensus to avoid giving the impression of a kind of tyranny of majority rule.

Since the bill is seen by some opponents as strengthening the government’s right to suppress information without clear justification, its forceful passage through the parliamentary system has an additional layer of significance. Civil activists, legal scholars and the media portray the bill as a government infringement on press freedom and the people’s right to information.

“It’s a bill of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats to hide information,” opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda said Wednesday in parliament, during a debate with Mr. Abe. Public concern over the bill remains strong as it widens the coverage of what constitutes state intelligence and extends the law’s reach to include private citizens.

But rather than patiently sit through weeks of committee deliberations, the Abe administration decided early on to enact the bill during the current parliamentary session, ending Friday. The secrets bill is part of Mr. Abe’s effort to strengthen Japan’s regional security presence. By plugging potential intelligence leak holes, the prime minister hopes to increase Japan’s credibility with its defense allies to gain a more integral role in the global intelligence community.

“It’s turned out to be a practice run for Abe in passing legislation that he strongly backs,” said Keio University politics professor Yasunori Sone, referring to the government’s strong-arm tactics. Determined to pass the bill by the end of Friday, the LDP is pushing to open a plenary session of the upper house late Thursday night to vote on the bill.

Despite public suspicion of the bill, the opposition parties also struggled to gain momentum in blocking the bill, failing to rally voters or unite in defiance of the bill. The Japan Restoration Party and Your Party agreed with parts of the bill, but walked out in the committee vote, while the DPJ continued to voice their opposition long after the vote. Criticism of the bill ranged from outright rejection of the need to strengthen secrecy legislation to the bill’s lack of a third-party oversight and the LDP’s steamroller tactics in trying to ram it through parliament without sufficient discussion.

Thursday’s ruckus in the security committee, widely broadcast on the evening television news, hardly gave the impression of a united opposition tackling an overreaching government, or a patient administration with a sympathetic ear to opposition concerns.

“It’s making a mockery of parliament,” said DPJ lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama after the bill was passed by the committee. If such force is allowed, “the opposition is completely superfluous. It’s past infuriating,” he said. “It’s pathetic.”


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