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2014年6月13日 (金)


new conference

news conference

June 12, 2014
EDITORIAL: Appalling level of debate mirrors Diet’s growing irrelevance

One-on-one debates in the Diet between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and opposition party leaders on June 11 were depressingly futile, and probably many Japanese voters threw their hands up in disgust.

The hollowness of the arguments was a stark demonstration of the miserable performance that Diet deliberations have taken during the current session, which winds up June 22.

The debates, the first parliamentary showdowns between party heads in this term, were held amid political wrangling over Abe’s initiative to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, a weighty issue concerning the Constitution.

Banri Kaieda, who heads the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition bloc, tried to score political points and deal Abe a hefty blow. Despite his enthusiasm, Kaieda came up empty-handed.

Kaieda urged Abe to abide by procedures that allow for revisions to the Constitution if he is so desperate for Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

But Abe clearly was not sincere in his response to the opposition leader’s proposition. He replied with the now familiar refrain, “I have a duty to protect the lives and peaceful existence of the people.” As if putting on a one-man show, the prime minister reiterated this phrase, which he first used in a May new conference to announce his intention to take steps to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Kaieda is in a politically weak position because he has been unable to muster consensus within his party on this issue. There are signs that some party members may initiate a campaign to force him to step down. Abe clearly took advantage of his liability.

The prime minister is bent on pushing through his initiative to make a landmark change in the nation’s security policy, at any cost, by stifling criticism both within and outside his Liberal Democratic Party.

From the outset, there was a huge gap between the two party heads in terms of their political clout.

Shintaro Ishihara, co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, who debated with Abe after Kaieda, spent most of his allotted 14 minutes offering his views about history.

Keiichiro Asao, chief of Your Party, did nothing but propose cooperation between his party and the Abe administration on economic policy measures during his five minutes.

The forum for party head debates in the Diet is called the “joint committee to examine the basic policy of the nation.”

When this program started in 2000, its stated purpose was to provide opportunities for the prime minister and opposition leaders to discuss basic policies from viewpoints that go beyond the pros and cons of individual pieces of legislation.

By any measure, the debates on June 11 were not worthy of the official name given to these discussions.

Talks between the LDP and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, have been the main forum for discussions on the issue of collective self-defense until now. New Komeito's stance throughout has been that of an opposition party trying to slow the LDP’s headlong rush to force through the controversial proposal.

Although the role adopted by New Komeito is not meaningless, the talks between the two political allies are, after all, negotiations between allies. There is obviously a limit to what such talks can achieve.

The ruling camp enjoys an overwhelming majority in the Diet. It conducts debate on key policy issues outside the Diet floor and then adopts the decisions made through the debate as national policies.

The current situation is turning the Diet into a hollow institution that has lost its ability to have meaningful and constructive debate.

Will the opposition parties simply sit idly by and allow the ruling coalition to have its own way during the remaining 10 days of the Diet session?

The dismal political landscape raises serious questions about the meaning of party politics.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 12


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