Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka threw the Lower House Committee on Foreign Affairs into turmoil Friday after requesting that scheduled questions by Muneo Suzuki, a rival politician within her Liberal Democratic Party, be limited.
In a rare move, the committee chairman, Ryuichi Doi, criticized Tanaka at the outset of the meeting, saying her request was “an intervention in the right of the legislature by the administration.”
Her actions also prompted her to be summoned later in the day by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who reprimanded the foreign minister, saying that such an attempt to restrict Diet questions was undesirable from the viewpoint of the separation of the three powers as stipulated in the Constitution and to refrain from repeating it.
Doi revealed that Tanaka had called him Thursday night and asked that Suzuki’s scheduled two-hour question time Friday afternoon be limited. She also dispatched Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima to Takao Fujii, chairman of the Lower House Committee on Rules and Administration, to convey the request.
“As chairman, I cannot limit questions by committee members . . . because their right to ask questions is guaranteed under the law,” Doi said.
The committee deliberations were halted twice to hold board meetings to discuss the matter and the committee adjourned without deliberating anything of substance.
Tanaka explained that Suzuki’s repeated questions were “excessive” and not related to diplomatic issues. “So I asked that the same thing be prevented from occurring again,” she said.
On Friday, when Doi asked Tanaka to explain her actions, Tanaka said she understands the principle of separation of the three powers and that she did not mean to interfere in the rights of the legislature.
“I apologize if my actions were misunderstood,” she said, also apologizing for stating the personal opinion that Suzuki’s questions were taking up too much time.
Tanaka told reporters later in the day that she told Fukuda that she would be careful in future. On Wednesday, Suzuki questioned Tanaka for more than an hour about earlier remarks that a politician was involved in the attempted transfer of Jiro Kodera, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Russian Division, to an overseas post because of his handling of a territorial dispute with Russia. Suzuki reportedly disagrees with Kodera’s attitude toward the matter.
The unnamed politician is widely believed to be Suzuki, who is elected from Hokkaido and has strong influence on the party’s policies toward Russia. Kodera’s transfer had been decided before Tanaka took office, but she ordered his return to his former position and declared a freeze on all personnel transfers.
During Wednesday’s session, Suzuki denied his involvement in the personnel matter and repeatedly accused Tanaka of implicating him in the affair. Tanaka refused to answer Suzuki’s questions directly, but the committee decided that Suzuki would be permitted to continue his questioning Friday afternoon.
On Thursday night, Tanaka also called in media organizations that serve as rotating representatives of the ministry press club and asked them whether they would be able to do something to reduce Suzuki’s question time Friday.
The press club refused Tanaka’s request, stating that the media are not in a position to carry out such requests.
Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the LDP, commented on the matter, saying a politician’s right to ask questions of the government takes the highest priority.
Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Jun Azumi said a minister should never attempt to restrict questions from elected legislators.
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