National / Politics

Opposition lawmakers slam timing of Abe's snap poll plans as abuse of power

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to force a snap election by closing an extraordinary Diet session the same day it opens on Sept. 28 — without any speeches from or questions to Cabinet ministers, including Abe himself — has drawn harsh criticism from opposition lawmakers.

The reported plan, confirmed by Hiroshi Moriyama, the Diet affairs chief of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, would buck historical trends.

The 19 members of Abe’s Cabinet, formed on Aug. 3, have not attended a single Diet session since their appointment. If no members deliver speeches in the Diet before the probable dissolution of the Lower House, it would be a first in the postwar era, a spokesman for the Lower House secretariat told The Japan Times.

Moriyama, speaking to reporters at the Diet, defended Abe’s plan.

“If an extraordinary Diet session starts, it is a matter of course that a policy speech (by the prime minister), representative question sessions and budget committee sessions follow. But if the Lower House is to be dissolved, that should be given the top priority,” he said.

Opposition lawmakers have criticized the plan as an outright violation of Article 53 of the Constitution, which requires the government to convene an extraordinary Diet session if a quarter or more of the members of either house make the demand.

In June, major opposition parties jointly demanded that Abe’s government convene a new Diet session based on Article 53. But more than three months later, the government has yet to do so. On top of that, the session set to open this month appears to be headed for a sudden finish.

“That’s an outrage that has never been committed throughout the postwar years,” said Seiji Maehara, the head of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, on Thursday. “(Abe) is abusing power to dissolve the Lower House.”

Opposition lawmakers have argued that Abe is trying to dissolve the chamber to avoid being grilled over allegations of favoritism scandals involving school operators Kake Gakuen and Moritomo Gakuen.

The Constitution has been interpreted as giving prime ministers the power to dissolve the Lower House to call a snap election at any time. Leaders have often used this power to call a general election at a timing likely to benefit their party.

On Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga planned to visit both chambers of the Diet to formally announce the government’s plan to convene an extraordinary session on Sept. 28.

But Democratic Party members of the Diet steering committees of both houses refused to attend a session with Suga, prompting the ruling bloc to cancel the meeting and set another one for Friday morning.