Komeito wobbly on IR legislation

The ruling coalition Komeito party remains divided over whether or not to support the forthcoming IR Implementation Bill, according to several reports in the Japanese news media.

The party leadership’s caution is enhanced both by the strong opposition emerging from Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist religious group which is the main backer of the party, as well as the sharply unfavorable public polls.

The Yomiuri Shimbun quoted an unnamed Komeito lawmaker as saying, “If we hastily enact a bill without the full understanding of the general public, it may spur a drop in the approval rating. It could affect the next lower house election.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must call an election by the end of next year, but there is speculation it could come as soon as October of this year.

Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi (who voted against the enabling IR legislation last December), stated at a press conference last Thursday that the government must pay close attention to “various responses from the general public.” His comment raises the stakes for the public hearings to begin later this week.

On the other hand, Komeito will be launching next month its own project team under the chairmanship of the party’s most outspokenly pro-IR lawmaker, Kiyohiko Toyama.

Also, according to one weekly magazine, Keiichi Ishii—the single Komeito lawmaker in the Abe Cabinet—retained his post as the crucial Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in this month’s cabinet reshuffle precisely due to the IR issue. More senior party executives are anti-IR and so they reportedly preferred to let Ishii do “the dirty work” of enacting casino legislation.

Most political analysts currently believe that the IR Implementation Bill will be introduced to the Diet later this year, but not passed until around May or June of next year.

The question of the timing and the results of the next general election, however, is the biggest wildcard.

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