Moves to introduce remote work for Diet members amid the coronavirus outbreak are failing to gain momentum due to constitutional constraints and technical reasons.
Diet sessions fall into the three risky situations — enclosed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings — that the government is calling on the public to avoid in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Younger lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party met with fellow party lawmaker Tsuyoshi Takagi, chairman of the Lower House Steering Committee, last Thursday to propose that viewing Diet deliberations streamed online and participation in web meetings whould be treated as attendance. The lawmakers also called for online voting for bills.
"Your ideas are reasonable," Takagi told the lawmakers. "I will do what I can."
But there are many obstacles to putting such measures into effect.
The Constitution stipulates that plenary meetings in both Diet chambers must be attended by one-third or more of their respective members.
A middle-ranking LDP lawmaker said that proposing a constitutional revision to accept online participation "would be going too far" in light of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's controversial goal of rewriting the Constitution's war-renouncing Article 9.
Meanwhile, a middle-ranking member of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said that "it would be costly to introduce systems" for security and other measures.
Introducing online voting would require measures to prevent fraudulent use and mistakes, as well as security measures.
Reducing infection risks is particularly essential for lawmakers such as Yasuhiko Funago, an Upper House member from the small opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi, who has a severe disability.
Funago asked to take part remotely in a session of the Upper House Education Committee on March 18 by using computer equipment, but the request was rejected.
Remote attendance "would be beneficial for everyone in the event of disasters or other emergency situations that make it difficult to gather in one place," he said.
Legislative bodies in other nations have adopted online voting systems. The upper and lower chambers of Brazil's parliament introduced online sessions due to the coronavirus outbreak, holding debates through video meetings and voting via smartphone applications.
Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's declaration of a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures last week, the two Diet chambers introduced measures to avoid creating a crowded setting.
The Lower House decided to limit attendance in plenary meetings, with other lawmakers entering the hall only during voting procedures.
The Upper House decided that its lawmakers should sit apart from each other in its plenary session hall.
But both measures are limited, highlighting the delay in coronavirus risk reduction measures at the Diet compared with those taken at private entities.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.