Acting out in the Upper House

Seven opposition parties, which together control the Upper House, on May 9 dismissed Ex-Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi as chairperson of the Diet chamber’s Environment Committee for extending her stay in China without approval of the Diet. This is the first time that the head of a Diet standing committee has been fired.

Clearly the opposition parties engaged in partisan politics. The Liberal Democratic Party’s reaction to their move was also far from commendable. It should humbly reconsider its actions. Both camps should put aside petty partisan politics and carry out thorough discussions on the budget and other important legislative matters.

Ms. Kawaguchi, an LDP member, visited China on April 23-24 to attend an international conference after getting Diet approval. After arriving in Beijing, she was invited to meet with former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, now a state councilor in charge of diplomacy, on April 25. Although she asked the opposition parties to approve the extension of her visit, they refused. She stayed in China and met with Mr. Yang. As a result, she failed to convene an Environment Committee session scheduled for April 25.

Although Ms. Kawaguchi apologized in writing, the Democratic Party of Japan, Your Party, Seikatsu no Tou (People’s Life Party), Japan Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, Midori no Kaze (Green Wind) and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) jointly submitted a dismissal resolution, saying that she deliberately neglected her duty, and it passed with their support.

The LDP and the government said that Ms. Kawaguchi’s meeting with Mr. Yang was meaningful because high-ranking Japanese officials have been unable to have direct contact with high-ranking Chinese officials these days due to the tension over the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Their explanation is reasonable. The opposition parties could have resolved the problem by issuing Ms. Kawaguchi a stern warning.

The retaliatory behavior of the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito’s behavior in the Upper House was inappropriate. Criticizing the opposition parties’ resolution to dismiss her, they did skipped an Upper House Budget Committee session to discuss the fiscal 2013 budget, which their coalition government has submitted. Like the opposition, they are putting partisan interests ahead of their obligation to the people to carry out their duties in a responsible manner. Unfortunately, this was not the only occasion that demonstrated the LDP’s slackening discipline. Recently too many LDP members were absent from an Upper House Judicial Affairs Committee session and voting had to be postponed.

The brouhaha generated by Ms. Kawaguchi’s China visit points to a need to work out more flexible Diet rules concerning trips abroad by Cabinet members and Diet officials. Both the ruling and opposition camps should rectify the current situation in which the prime minister and Cabinet members are often meaninglessly bound by the Diet’s schedule, limiting their freedom to carry out effective diplomacy.