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Abe's popularity takes a hit over secrecy bill

Publication Date : 03-12-2013


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking a beating in popular support as opposition grows against the Japanese government's rushed attempt to enact a law that will see those who leak government information classified as secret face jail terms of up to 10 years.

From a record high of 76 per cent in April, the latest survey by the influential Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed the approval rating for Abe's Cabinet now standing at 49 per cent, the first time it has dropped below 50 per cent since he assumed power last December.

In the survey, 50 per cent of respondents said they opposed the state secrecy bill, with only 25 per cent supporting it.

Last Tuesday, Japan's Lower House approved the bill, after three weeks, or only 46 hours of debate that critics had slammed as insufficient for the impact it will have. This is just a month after the Cabinet approved the bill.

Under the bill, officials who leak information face 10 years' jail, compared with the one year now. Journalists who obtain information in an "inappropriate" way face five years' imprisonment, although during the debate in the Lower House, it was not made clear what this meant.

Abe has described the state secrecy bill as essential towards ensuring that Japan can share sensitive information with the US and its allies.

While the government has canvassed public comments with regard to the bill, the window for sending them in was only two weeks.

At the only public hearing held in Fukushima on November 25, all seven local officials invited to the hearing opposed the bill.

The resistance is widespread, with opposition MPs, the media, civil groups, lawyers and labour unions, among others, speaking out against the bill, demanding that it be discussed at length or even dropped.

There have been almost daily small street protests by the various groups.

Criticism reached a fever pitch on Monday after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba, in a blog, likened noisy street demonstrations against the bill near the Diet building to "terrorist acts".

Ishiba on Monday withdrew his "terrorist acts" description, which was first posted last Friday, but not before he defended himself over the weekend to reporters.

LDP ministers were in damage control mode on Monday, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga telling MPs that the terrorism reference was inappropriate.

"Demonstrations are guaranteed under... freedom of speech," he said in response to an MP's question.

Opposition MPs are planning to question Ishiba in Parliament.

Opposition to the bill is gaining momentum as the Upper House is likely to vote on it on Friday, the last day of the current parliamentary session. As the LDP holds a majority in the House, the vote is expected to sail through.

Tokyo Shimbun editorial writer Keiichi Kiriyama on Monday said that under the current bill, the Japanese government would have the power to define almost any information as a state secret for up to 60 years and possibly more, without any independent body to monitor what it does.

"Civil servants are subject to penalties for speaking out of turn under the bill and this will lead to their silence," he said, adding that the government is setting the stage for hiding whatever inconvenient problems it faces.

Despite the drop in approval ratings, Abe on Monday signalled his intention to go through with the attempt to push the bill through by Friday.

"I will do my best to explain the situation in order to address the concerns and apprehensions that the people may have," he told MPs, adding that he is working towards passing the bill before the current Parliament session ends.


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