Coalition still disputing education law revision

The Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, still disagree on a proposed revision of the Fundamental Law of Education concerning patriotism and religious education, although the Central Council for Education proposed an amendment in a report last March.

The government and the LDP gave up the idea of submitting a bill concerning the revision to the current Diet session before the House of Councillors election to be held in summer due to objections by New Komeito.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has refrained from exercising his leadership to settle the dispute.

The main issue is how the two parties will be able to reach a compromise during the current Diet session following the upper house election.

The Central Council for Education, an advisory panel for the Education, Science and Technology minister, submitted the report urging a comprehensive revision of the law to then Minister Atsuko Toyama on March 20 last year.

The report was based on the view that since World War II, the nation's education has excessively emphasized the rights and personality of individuals.

The ruling parties' panel to discuss the revision, chaired by former Education Minister Kosuke Hori, held its eighth meeting in the Diet building March 18.

At the meeting, Hori said he wanted to create a document concerning the key points of religious education.

Akihiro Ota, the acting secretary general of New Komeito at the time, agreed with Hori's proposal, but highlighted the task's difficult nature.

Since the council submitted the report, disputes on the issues of patriotism and religious education have arisen in party discussions.

The LDP demanded an early revision of the law to reflect the report, but New Komeito opposed the revision, saying patriotic education inspired an image of nationalism in the prewar era.

New Komeito added that stipulating religious education in law would lead to violations of religious freedom.

Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization that is a main supporter of New Komeito, strongly opposed this aspect of the revision.

New Komeito agreed this year to establish a panel to discuss the revision. However, the panel discussed areas that were not in dispute, such as issues relating to social and family education, neglecting controversial areas, which subsequently have not been settled.

The deadlock is due in part to recent elections, such as November's House of Representatives election and the upcoming upper house election.

A senior LDP member said, "The parties want to postpone issues that may adversely affect the coalition in elections."

Views on the revision also differ within Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), while the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party have opposed it.

Koizumi also has not appeared to be enthusiastic about revising the law.

In a policy speech in January, Koizumi said, "I will take an active approach (to disputes on the revision) based on nationwide debates."

But government sources said Koizumi had not made any effort to speed up the drafting of a bill.

Koizumi only briefly referred to the issue when he met on Jan. 17 with former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Hidenao Nakagawa, both of whom have great influence within the LDP.

Koizumi said to them: "It's important to find something on which both parties can agree. I want you to continue the debates with no restrictions on time."

The LDP expects some change in New Komeito's attitude after the upper house election.

On Feb. 28, Toshiko Hamayotsu, acting chief representative of New Komeito, remarked at a meeting of educational officials held in Tokyo, "People who don't love their own culture and homeland can't appreciate other peoples' cultures or countries."

At the meeting, Hori reportedly smiled at the comment. A senior official of the education ministry said, "I feel like the stance of senior New Komeito members has changed recently."