A Diet panel on constitutional reform resumed deliberation on Thursday for the first time since November, debating whether to allow lawmakers’ terms to be extended during times of major disaster.
In the first formal debate on the Constitution in the current session, questions on Thursday focused on the theme of protecting the public’s right to political representation.
Representatives of ruling and opposition parties debated the possibility of an emergency clause allowing lawmakers’ terms to be extended in major disasters to preserve the continuity of government.
Former Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, a lawmaker with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, said in the panel that it is “essential” that the matter be dealt with under the Constitution, while Yukio Edano of the main opposition Democratic Party said the issue cannot be decided easily.
While lawmakers in the Upper House come up for re-election at regular intervals, the prime minister can dissolve the Lower House at any time.
Edano argued that the Constitution already addresses the issue of emergencies occurring while the Lower House is in a state of dissolution, as the Upper House can assume the Lower House’s powers in such circumstances.
Thursday’s debate also included the issue of changes to the prime minister’s power to dissolve the Lower House, and provisions to counter the issue of vote-weight disparity between densely and sparsely populated electoral districts.
Emergency provisions for times of disaster have featured in previous debates on the Constitution, with opposition parties arguing that such changes could allow the government to place excessive restrictions on the rights of the public.
But there is apparently support for the extension of lawmakers’ terms during times of disaster among some members of the Democratic Party, as well as the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito.
Kazuo Kitagawa of Komeito said the issue concerns the fundamentals of legislative democracy and should be debated carefully.
The LDP has indicated it wants to find consensus with opposition parties in preparing a potential amendment, likely a necessity in making the proposal palatable to the public ahead of a referendum.
The Lower House panel is expected to summon experts for testimony on March 23.
Deliberation in both houses of the Diet is an essential step in Abe’s plan to get the postwar Constitution amended for the first time.
An Upper House election in July last year gave Abe’s party and other pro-amendment forces enough seats in both houses to formally propose a revision to the Constitution, which must then pass a national referendum.
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