Opposition parties are ratcheting up criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reported drive to reduce the amount of time they are given to grill him and his Cabinet ministers in Diet debates, equating such a move to an attempt to avoid being held accountable amid a series of scandals.
Soon after his ruling coalition won by a landslide in the snap election earlier this month, Abe reportedly instructed high-ranking officials in his Liberal Democratic Party to rethink the large amount of question time currently allocated to the opposition.
Six opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party, Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and the Japanese Communist Party, agreed that the LDP’s bid to limit their chance to question the government is “unacceptable” and that the traditional ratio should be maintained.
“Opposition parties have a responsibility to hold (the government) accountable in the Diet,” Hirofumi Ryu, Kibo no To’s Diet affairs chief, told reporters after meeting his counterparts from other parties. “We demand the current allocation of question time — 80 percent for the opposition and 20 percent for the ruling bloc — remain unchanged.”
The meeting of opposition parties came ahead of a special Diet session scheduled for Wednesday, when Abe is set to be re-elected as prime minister.
There is no law or Diet rule dictating how many hours the ruling and opposition parties should be afforded for questions. Any change to the current proportion can be carried out at the discretion of lawmakers.
The current ratio became the norm after the LDP — when it was briefly out of power from 2009 to 2012 — “powerfully demanded” it be granted more time to question the ruling party, according to CDP lawmaker Akira Nagatsuma.
Abe’s bold bid to rebalance the current ratio in favor of the ruling bloc exposes his “arrogance” after the LDP-Komeito bloc’s sweeping poll victory and “completely runs counter” to the veneer of humbleness and sincerity the prime minister displayed on the campaign trail, Ryu said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, for his part, defended Abe’s move.
“I believe re-allocating the amount of question time based on the number of seats won by each parliamentary group will give lawmakers a more equal opportunity to ask questions,” Suga told a regular news conference Monday.
“Given each lawmaker is entrusted by the public to represent them at the Diet, I think equalizing the ratio makes sense,” he added.
Under the parliamentary Cabinet system, bills drafted by bureaucrats first require scrutiny among lawmakers of the ruling party, in this case the LDP, before they are OK’d for Diet submission.
This means by the time state-sponsored bills undergo deliberation in various Diet panels, they have already been debated, approved and even revised by LDP lawmakers.
Unlike the ruling camp, “opposition parties don’t get a chance to discuss budget proposals and other bills until they are submitted to the Diet. It is therefore a matter of course that we tend to be assigned a greater portion of time for questioning,” Yukio Edano, head of the CDP, wrote Monday on Twitter.
Suga’s assertion that the ratio should be adjusted in proportion to the number of seats held, Edano said, exposes his “lack of understanding of the parliamentary Cabinet system.”
“If there are lots of things ruling coalition lawmakers have to ask about a certain bill, that means they are not on the same page as the government,” he wrote. “That’s actually a problem.”
These complaints were echoed by Upper House lawmaker Mizuho Fukushima, of the Social Democratic Party, who said Abe’s move to curb the opposition grilling suggests “he hates it when government power is checked.”
It “weakens Japan’s democracy,” Fukushima tweeted Monday.
In the United Kingdom, which also uses the parliamentary Cabinet system, there is no set amount of time allocated to the ruling and opposition parties.
But unlike Japan, ruling party lawmakers in the U.K. don’t usually have more time to scrutinize bills before they are introduced at parliament, according to a 2001 paper compiled by the Prime Minister’s Office in Japan.