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毎日デイリーニューズ/2019/4/15 18:10

Diet's raison d'etre being lost in shuffle as reforms languish

Diet reform discussions have not progressed during the current regular session in spite of criticism that the legislature's functions are deteriorating. Despite this, are ruling and opposition parties just going to continue as-is and wrap up the session before this summer's House of Councillors election? One cannot help but be appalled at the lack of urgency among legislators concerning the issue.
In June last year, a multipartisan group of lawmakers including Shinjiro Koizumi of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) launched an initiative dubbed "the council for achieving lower house reform before the Heisei era ends."
Under deliberation in the House of Representatives are subjects such as cutting back on paper consumption by allowing tablet use during Diet question and answer sessions, as well as permitting female legislators to vote online from home or hospitals when they are pregnant or giving birth.
While both the ruling and opposition blocs have recognized the need to slash paper use, some in the LDP have voiced reservations about out-of-chamber votes by female legislators on the grounds that it could run counter to constitutional provisions about voting by Diet members present. It thus appears difficult to introduce online voting before the turn of the Imperial era from Heisei to Reiwa at the stroke of 12 a.m. on May 1.
Furthermore, a proposal to hold debate between the prime minister and opposition party leaders at night so more members of the public can view it live on TV has barely been discussed this session.
The lack of progress in Diet reform discussion owes much to a lack of LDP enthusiasm, but some in the opposition camp are also reluctant, as striking any accord with the ruling coalition could dampen the administration-opposition showdown ahead of the upper house race. Given the current state of affairs, advancing Diet reform debate looks rather unlikely.
What is even more serious is the fact that legislators have not addressed a fundamental question: What is the Diet's raison d'etre?
Lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima released a July 2018 statement questioning whether the Diet had engaged in legislative activity and the monitoring of administrative branches in a manner meeting its public mandate. The document urged both the ruling and opposition camps to seriously reflect on their actions.
The statement signified a profound sense of crisis over the Diet's insufficient responses to scandals. These included the Ministry of Finance's doctoring of documents on the heavily discounted sale of state land to Moritomo Gakuen, a school operator that had ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife Akie.
Alas, the current Diet session has also had such shortcomings. First among them is the failure to reveal the whole picture of statistical irregularities at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that caused tens of millions of people to be shortchanged a total of tens of billions of yen in work-related benefits.
The parliamentary investigation has been lagging mainly due to government foot-dragging on opposition camp requests for relevant documents. Prime Minister Abe is also to blame for hindering substantial deliberations on the issue by spending so much time talking about irrelevant topics instead of squarely answering questions.
As Oshima pointed out, the Diet's biggest role is to keep tabs on the government, and this must supersede ruling-opposition barriers. The LDP itself should make harsher demands of party head Prime Minister Abe and other higher-ups.
The longstanding question about the role-sharing between the upper and lower houses has also been left unaddressed. The only change the upper chamber has seen of late is a seat number increase, which the LDP prioritized to serve its own interests.
Just as the nation is bracing for the upper house contest, the legislature should ask itself this essential question: What is the upper chamber about?




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