Four opposition parties jointly called on the Cabinet Thursday to immediately convene an extraordinary Diet session to reopen deliberations on the Kake Gakuen scandal, invoking Article 53 of the Constitution.
Article 53 obliges the Cabinet to open another Diet session following the annual ordinary session that closed June 18.
According to procedures outlined in the article, the Cabinet must convene an extraordinary Diet session “when a quarter or more of the total members of either House makes the demand.”
The four opposition parties — the Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party — comprise more than a quarter of both the Upper and Lower Houses.
“The Diet needs to seek out the truth and eliminate public distrust” over the Kake Gakuen scandal, said DP Secretary General Yoshihiko Noda after a meeting with executives from the other three opposition forces.
However, Article 53 doesn’t specify when such a session should take place. Technically, the Cabinet may choose to delay for as long as it wants.
Previously, when opposition parties invoked Article 53 in October 2015, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet held off convening a Diet session until January the following year, when an annual ordinary session usually starts.
At the time, opposition forces criticized the Cabinet, accusing it of violating the Constitution. But Abe argued otherwise, saying that a Diet session was convened “within a reasonable period of time.”
The Kake Gakuen scandal involves allegations that the prime minister pressured the education ministry to rule in favor of Kake Gakuen, an Okayama-based school operator run by the prime minister’s close friend, which was seeking approval to open a new veterinary department at a university in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, as part of a special deregulation project.
Abe has strenuously denied the allegation. But a number of internal government documents suggesting the prime minister’s involvement have been leaked to media outlets, which has seriously damaged the credibility of his government in recent weeks.
Earlier in the day, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi reportedly told party executives that the Diet should hold a special committee meeting to deliberate the Kake Gakuen scandal without opening a new extraordinary Diet session.
Noda rejected Yamaguchi’s proposal suggested for the special committee meeting, and said the four opposition parties stand by their demand for the opening of an extraordinary Diet session based on Article 53.
The current Diet session closed on June 18, as scheduled by Abe’s Cabinet. The ending of the session came despite calls by the opposition camp for an extension so lawmakers could deliberate further on the Kake Gakuen scandal and other controversial legislation.
On June 15, the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling bloc partner, Komeito, skipped a committee-level vote to ram through a controversial conspiracy bill through the Upper House, passing the measure using a rarely-used procedure.
Some political observers said Abe rushed the bill through the Diet because he wanted to avoid further grilling over the Kake Gakuen scandal in an extended term.
The upcoming election of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly, whose official campaign period kicks off Friday, is widely believed to be another factor that prompted Abe’s ruling camp not to extend the Diet session.
Tokyo voters go to the polls on July 2 in the metropolitan election. If the Diet session continued, it would have given opposition parties more opportunities to grill key officials in Abe’s Cabinet over the Kake Gakuen scandal and could have adversely affected LDP lawmakers vying for seats in the election.
Meanwhile, Noda of the DP also called for the resignation of Deputy Chief Secretary Koichi Hagiuda as the head of the Cabinet Personnel Affairs Bureau.
The internal documents leaked from the education ministry suggested that Hagiuda, one of Abe’s closest aides, may have been a key figure in the Kake Gakuen scandal who pressured the education ministry to act by indicating that the prime minister’s purported intention.
Hagiuda has strongly denied these allegations. He also claimed Abe gave no instructions concerning the Kake Gakuen’s application.
The Cabinet Personnel Affairs Bureau, which consults with the prime minister and chief Cabinet secretary, appoints officials to hundreds of key senior positions in government ministries and organizations.
The 2014 creation of the bureau gave added power to Abe’s Cabinet, which it has used to tightly control senior bureaucrats.
Critics say this power of the bureau may have discouraged education ministry and Cabinet Office officials from launching a full-fledged investigation into the Kake Gakuen scandal.
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