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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/5/25 14:10

Election talk must not distract lawmakers from the tasks at hand

Political arrogance on the part of the ruling coalition, which controls an overwhelming majority in both Diet chambers, is the cause of the legislature's current inertia.
The Diet has strayed sharply from its fundamental role as the nation’s primary venue for political discourse, where parties debate key policy issues and seek public support for their agendas.
Symptomatic of the legislature’s poor performance is the seeming paralysis of the Budget Committees of both houses.
These important committees not only tackle budget bills but also a wide range of national policy issues. They often take center stage for political battles as sessions are usually attended by the prime minister and other Cabinet members, and frequently televised live.
The committees play a crucial role in monitoring and checking the executive branch of the government, but unfortunately they have effectively been thrown into recess. The Lower House Budget Committee has not held a session for 84 days, while its Upper House counterpart last met 58 days ago.
If the current regular Diet session ends on June 26 as scheduled without any more Budget Committee meetings, it will rank as having devoted the fewest number of days to Budget Committee meetings in 10 years.
Opposition parties have repeatedly called for the committees to be called into session. In the Upper House, opposition parties have jointly submitted a petition for a Budget Committee session signed by more than one-third of the committee members to its chairman, Genjiro Kaneko of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Diet rules stipulate that the chairperson of the committee must convene a session when such a petition is submitted. The request cannot simply be put on hold without good reason.
Opposition parties have also called on the chairperson of the Lower House Budget Committee, the LDP’s Seiko Noda, to hold a session although they don’t occupy the one-third of committee seats required to submit a formal petition. But Noda has not responded to their call.
The Abe administration once ignored an opposition request for an extraordinary Diet session to be convened based on a constitutional provision.
Shinzo Abe has been prime minister for a long time, with the result that political power is concentrated in his hands. He has never been eager to fulfill his responsibility to explain his policy decisions and actions in Diet sessions.
The public is eager to hear Abe discuss a wide range of policy issues, from the outlook of the economy, which is getting murky due to an escalating trade dispute between the United States and China, to his decision to seek a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without setting any conditions. The latter has huge implications for Japan’s relationship with the secluded country.
The public has yet to hear any detailed, convincing explanation about political scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution, two school operators directly or indirectly linked to Abe, which have seriously eroded public confidence in the administration.
It is clear that the ruling coalition of the LDP and its junior partner, Komeito, is trying to avoid any damaging misstep in Diet debate prior to the summer Upper House election.
The ruling camp has limited the number of Cabinet-sponsored bills submitted to the Diet to a minimum and avoided introducing measures that might trigger a fierce political battle with the opposition camp.
Head-on debates between Abe and opposition leaders have yet to be held and are likely to be postponed until the final days of this session.
While Diet committees are considering various bills, the Diet as a whole is enveloped in a kind of lethargy.
Speculation that Abe may move to dissolve the Lower House for simultaneous elections of both chambers to capitalize on his strong standing with voters seems to account for the Diet’s low-energy state.
Many Diet members are apparently distracted by the prospect and are finding it hard to concentrate on floor deliberations.
Lower House members are supposed to serve their four-year terms working hard to deliver on their campaign promises.
Even though there are still more than two years to go until the end of the term for the current Lower House members, senior administration officials are talking up the possibility of a snap election in outrageous political maneuverings to serve their party’s interests.
Such behavior should be denounced as showing blatant contempt for the role and mission of the Diet.
Lawmakers should get down to the business of discussing bills and policy issues without being distracted by speculation about a snap poll.
All Diet members, of both sides of the aisle, should concentrate their attention and energy on working to fulfill their obligations to the voters who elected them.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 25




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