The Upper House has elected Mr. Kenji Hirata, secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan in the chamber, as its new president to succeed Takeo Nishioka, who died suddenly of pneumonia Nov. 5. Difficult tasks await this little-known lawmaker, the most pressing being quick rectification of the vote-value gap in Upper House elections. The ratio is now 5:1 between the least and most populated electoral districts.
Nishioka, a former education minister elected Upper House President in July 2010, was a maverick of sorts. Although his position required political neutrality, he was outspoken in criticizing then Prime Minister Naoto Kan over his handling of the March 11 disasters and the Fukushima nuclear crisis. He said a national leader must not use “beyond expectations” as an excuse for political inaction.
Mr. Hirata is the first lawmaker with a career embedded in the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo) to become Upper House president. Rengo, Japan’s largest labor group, is an influential supporter of the DPJ. He is also the third Upper House president with no experience as a Cabinet member. He is said to be close to DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi and have smooth relations with the opposition forces.
He must see to it that Upper House business goes smoothly because the opposition is likely to assume a confrontational attitude toward the DPJ to force Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election once the Diet passes the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011.
Mr. Noda decided to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive free-trade scheme. For doing so, the Liberal Democratic Party has not ruled out the possibility of submitting a censure motion against him in the opposition-controlled Upper House. Most people surveyed don’t think that Mr. Noda has provided enough information on the TPP.
Toward yearend, the government will work out a proposal to raise the consumption tax rate in the mid-2010s to 10 percent from the current 5 percent. Mr. Hirata must strive to avoid meaningless confrontation in the Upper House and to get the chamber to disclose adequate information through solid deliberations on issues important to people, such as the tax raise and the TPP.