Eda relishing new role as Upper House president

Believes DPJ's House of Councilors victory is a big step toward true democracy for Japan

by Sayuri Daimon

The Diet’s two chambers may come to different conclusions over various bills in upcoming sessions, but this can lead to more transparent debate, the new House of Councilors president hopes.

“The upper and lower chambers of the Diet may conflict over various bills, but we shouldn’t be afraid of this,” said Satsuki Eda, an Upper House lawmaker from the Democratic Party of Japan who was elected the chamber’s new president Tuesday. “The two chambers should oppose each other in a dignified manner and make efforts to reach consensus after having transparent discussions.”

Following the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc’s devastating defeat in the July 29 Upper House election, the DPJ became the largest party in the chamber. This is the first time the LDP has ceded the presidency to an opposition force since the party was established in 1955.

Because the ruling coalition still enjoys a majority in the Lower House, it is widely expected that the lower and upper chambers will clash over bills in the coming months.

For example, the DPJ has already made it clear it will block the extension of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Indian Ocean mission, which provides refueling for U.S. and allied warships involved in the NATO-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

If both chambers are deadlocked over three key items — the national budget, treaties and selecting the prime minister — they must attempt a compromise. But if the negotiations fail, then the lower chamber’s decision automatically prevails.

For other bills, the Lower House needs a two-thirds vote to override any Upper House decision.

“This political situation is unprecedented. I will take the role of the captain of the ship that enters uncharted waters. I really feel this is a grave responsibility,” Eda said in an interview with The Japan Times.

The Upper House has often been criticized as a rubber stamp for the more powerful House of Representatives, as it usually endorses the bills that have been first approved by the Lower House.

But Eda said that is no longer the case, because the LDP is no longer the largest party in the upper chamber.

Eda, who first entered politics in 1977 following the death of his father, Saburo, said he, like his father, has always prioritized the creation of citizen-centered politics and a political system that allows for a shift in power from sole LDP rule.

Eda’s father was a well-known figure in postwar politics. In 1960, as secretary general of the Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition party at the time, he actually served as acting chairman after the assassination of JSP Chairman Inejiro Asanuma by a rightwinger.

However, Saburo Eda left the JSP in 1977 after failing to reform the party, which was leaning too far to the left at the time, and founded the party Shakai Shimin Rengo, predecessor to Shakai Minshu Rengo (Social Democratic Federation).

Eda junior initially worked his way up the legal ladder to become a judge, but on entering politics he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming leader of the party his father founded.

His broad range of experience also involves working with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) victims to gain compensation from the government, and also trying to establish an independent government in East Timor.

In 1993, Eda served as director general of the Science and Technology Agency in then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s Cabinet. He joined the DPJ in 1998.

Eda, a close friend of DPJ deputy chief Naoto Kan, said he believes in five principles necessary to achieve a true democracy, and sees the current situation in the Upper House as a step to this end.

Eda said the first principle is “information-sharing” by the ruling and opposition parties in order to conduct debate. The second principle is “open debate,” under public scrutiny with decisions not made behind the scenes. The third is “mutual influence” — each side should be open to the other’s opinions and have the flexibility to accept different opinions. The fourth principle is “majority rule” and the last is “respect for the minority’s opinions.”

“So far, Japanese politics have only fulfilled the fourth principle, which is majority rule. But since the Upper House majority has changed hands, we are getting closer to creating an apparatus for a true democracy,” the 66-year-old Okayama native said.

Asked what he thinks of the way Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, ran the government, he said, “They put too much emphasis on market economy and competition principles and they lacked deep historical insight.

“Politics have become very shallow under their leadership in terms of ethics,” Eda said. “Their six years of rule severely damaged Japan.

“As our generation has experienced the postwar citizens’ movement for liberalism and democracy, we have to pass on the gravity of history to the next generation,” he said.