House of Councilors President Juro Saito resigned Wednesday after he failed to mediate an agreement between the ruling and opposition camps over a plan to revise the way some of the chamber’s members are elected.
Accepting responsibility for the protracted turmoil in the Diet, Saito tendered his resignation to Upper House Vice President Hisamitsu Sugano soon after discussions between the ruling parties and the opposition over revisions to the electoral system broke down in the morning.
It is the fourth time under the postwar Constitution that the Upper House president has resigned and the first time he has stepped down for failing to mediate between opposing camps.
The ruling triumvirate — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — and the opposition forces agreed to open an Upper House plenary session today to approve Saito’s resignation and appoint his successor.
The 60-year-old Saito will be succeeded by former Education Minister Yutaka Inoue, 72, ruling bloc officials said.
Diet sources said that while the filling of the presidency is the only official item on the agenda for today’s plenary session, it is still technically possible for the chamber to vote on the ruling bloc’s bill to revise the roster system for the proportional representation portion of Upper House elections.
Sugano, who was also involved in the mediation, is expected to announce his resignation in a few days.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the ruling camp rejected Saito’s mediation plan to create a new roster system that would combine the plan put forward by the coalition and the current system.
Although the opposition camp withheld its reply to the proposal, Saito called off the talks when it appeared his efforts to break the deadlock would not succeed.
“I am stepping down from my post because I was not able to maintain my authority as Upper House president,” Saito said during his resignation announcement, noting that it had been effectively impossible to mediate since the conflicting parties have provided no foundation on which to build.
In response to criticism from both camps that he broke with Diet custom by commenting on how an already-proposed bill should be revised — an action lawmakers claim is not the business of the Upper House president — Saito said he had no choice but to take “exceptional steps in exceptional circumstances.”
He added that he felt that political parties no longer treat the Upper House president with respect and that the position no longer carries its former authority.
The row centers around a new polling system proposed by the ruling bloc that would allow citizens to vote for either a party or an individual. The bill was rammed through an Upper House committee last week during the opposition’s boycott.
The coalition’s planned revision from the current “fixed roster” to the “open roster” system would allocate seats to parties based on the number of votes the parties or their candidates receive. The parties would then assign seats to candidates in accordance with their individual performances.
The current system allows ballots to be cast only for parties, not individual candidates on party rosters.
Opposition parties have adopted a united stance against the proposed changes, claiming the new system would encourage popularity votes as well as make election campaigning more costly.
Following Saito’s resignation, opposition parties pointed the finger of blame at the tripartite ruling coalition, calling their actions “lawless.”
Yukio Hatoyama, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, later told reporters: “Do they (the ruling bloc) want to go as far as replacing the (Upper House) president to (achieve their aim to) change the electoral system? I feel great indignation.”
The five opposition groups in the House of Councilors issued a joint statement that says, “The ruling parties must deeply understand that their actions were so lawless that the House of Councilors president had to resign.”
The five are the DPJ, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, Mushozoku no Kai — which uses the English name Independents — and the Liberal Party.
They maintain in the statement that they had been “cautiously examining” Saito’s mediation plan until the ruling bloc refused to consider it without listening to the president.
“The House of Councilors has encountered a unique situation in the postwar era,” said Masakazu Yamamoto, head of the SDP’s Upper House lawmakers. “The ruling parties resorted to reckless action, completely ignoring the president’s authority and trying to pass their bill even by sacking the president,” he told a joint news conference.
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