Jeers, sneers, and even discriminatory remarks in the assembly hall aren’t rare in the world of Japanese politics.
But the recent sexist slurs by a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker that made headlines around the world offer Japan a chance to end this shameful tradition, an expert says.
“There is absolutely no need to jeer during an assembly session using taxpayers’ money. Lawmakers are just bored and looking for entertainment,” said Kazuhisa Kawakami, a political science professor at Meiji Gakuin University. “We taxpayers find nothing amusing about heckling.”
Jeering is a long-standing tradition in the Japanese political world, often referred to as “gijo no hana (the blossom of the assembly hall)” by some Diet members, suggesting that such comments lighten the atmosphere.
But the reality could not be more different when a lawmaker is at the microphone trying to make a point and is drowned out by shouting.
In June of last year, former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was asking a question of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a Lower House plenary session when the LDP lawmakers’ jeers were so loud that Speaker of the House Bunmei Ibuki had to step in and demand silence.
“The jeers reflect the fact that constructive discussions are not taking place inside the assembly halls. It is a sign that the lawmakers are slacking off,” Kawakami said.
Despite the recurring disruption caused by jeering, there are no specific penal regulations on a local or national level for engaging in the practice. A spokesperson for the Lower House says no one has ever been punished by the disciplinary committee for heckling.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly rule book declares, “Nobody shall make statements without reason or cause a commotion that obstructs proceedings.”
But this did not stop LDP lawmaker Akihiro Suzuki from engaging in sexist sneering when female Your Party member Ayaka Shiomura was speaking last week.
“Why don’t you get married soon?” and “Can’t you have babies?” were some of the taunts directed at Shiomura in that incident, and Suzuki admitted to making some of them.
“If you made statements like that in the private sector, you would be fired immediately,” said Mitsuko Nishizaki, secretary-general of local political party Tokyo Seikatsusha Network. “Some lawmakers are unaware that you cannot make statements that slander others or violate their human rights.”
Nishizaki said many women have fallen victim to sexual harassment in local assemblies but their plight has gone unnoticed for a long time in a male-dominated society where women are still treated as inferior.
This time, however, social media sites such as Twitter helped spread the word and the incident triggered outrage not only in Japan but around the world.
“Lawmakers need to remember that they have been elected by the people and that their actions and words are being closely observed,” said Meiji Gakuin’s Kawakami.