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Abe says question time has outlived its usefulness

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The one-on-one question time of the prime minister by opposition party leaders — introduced in 2000 to reinvigorate parliamentary debates — has outlived its usefulness and no longer functions in the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe argued Wednesday.

Abe made that remarks after Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, began loudly reading out a list of seven complaints against Abe’s administration, including cronyism scandals allegedly involving the prime minister and school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen.

As little time was left when he began reading out the list, Edano apparently did not expect an answer from Abe on each of the seven items.

This prompted Abe to complain that the one-on-one sessions were no longer being used in the spirit of their original implementation.

“I feel they’re not questions but a speech,” he said during Wednesday’s Upper House session.

“After the previous one-on-one session with the party leaders, Mr. Edano said that the question time had completed its historic mission” and no longer functions, Abe said. “Listening to this session, I actually have to agree.”

The one-on-one session, modeled on the Question Time in the British Parliament, was introduced in the Diet in a bid to end behind-the-scenes negotiations and promote public debate in forming consensus among lawmakers.

However, the Lower House general election last October led to the splintering of major opposition parties into several small, weaker groups, which has considerably reduced the time for questions by each opposition party leader during the 45-minute sessions.

After the previous one-on-one session on May 30, Edano himself said he believes the sessions are no longer meaningful because, according to him, Abe avoided many questions and instead kept talking about irrelevant matters in a bid to use up his time.

On Wednesday, five opposition leaders were able to question the prime minister for just over 45 minutes, a span that included the time Abe spent in responding.

“You have (only) 45 minutes, so it just becomes a war of words,” said Toranosuke Katayama, co-leader of Nihon Ishin no Kai, one of the five opposition party leaders to question Abe on Wednesday.

Katayama said there was a need to “seriously review” how the question time should be used and how it should be allocated to each opposition leader.

Also at Wednesday’s session, Kohei Otsuka, coleader of the Democratic Party for the People, one of the five opposition forces, criticized Abe for adopting an immigration policy that would create a new visa category for nonprofessional foreign migrant workers.

Such workers are actually needed given the acute labor shortage facing the nation, but the government should have studied more about the possible impact on Japanese workers’ wages, Otsuka argued.