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The 72-day extraordinary Diet session opened Thursday. It will last until Dec. 1, which is unusually long for an extra session. The political schedule will be very tight in December: The government will compile a fiscal 2001 budget and lay the groundwork for the reorganization of the central bureaucracy into a Cabinet office and 12 ministries and agencies effective next Jan. 1. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet will have to be overhauled in December for the reform.

The extra Diet session will also face a host of difficult issues, beginning with a fiscal 2000 supplementary budget. In recent years, the government has annually compiled huge supplementary budgets featuring public-works spending of more than 10 trillion yen to push economic recovery. The government is now gearing up to prepare another extra budget of 10 trillion yen under the initiative of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s policy chief, Shizuka Kamei. However, amid strong public criticism of extravagant public-works spending, the question is to what extent the government will be able to curb spending. This is an important issue, which will have a powerful influence on the fiscal 2001 budget.

There are several important bills scheduled for deliberation in the session. One would ban influence peddling by lawmakers. Another would revise the Public Offices Election Law to introduce a new Upper House proportional-representation voting system and cut the number of seats in the chamber by 10. The new system would allow voters to choose either individual candidates or political parties when casting ballots, instead of just parties as at present.

The ruling coalition of the LDP, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party was forced to sponsor the anti-influence-peddling legislation under mounting public pressure following a series of political scandals. In one scandal, former Construction Minister Eiichi Nakao was arrested in connection with a payoff scandal. The opposition forces, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, are strongly opposed to the bill, on the grounds that it has loopholes, and are gearing up to submit a stricter version of the legislation. In the end, however, the governing coalition and the opposition forces are likely to rewrite the legislation to ensure its passage.

The electoral-reform bill was proposed unilaterally by the LDP: It believes the present voting system puts it at a disadvantage. The opposition forces have denounced the bill, saying the LDP is contravening the principles of democratic politics to serve its own interest. The two controversial bills will face legislative difficulties in the limited time allowed for the session.

Also scheduled for deliberation are bills that would grant voting rights to permanent foreign residents in Japan; lower the age at which juvenile offenders become subject to criminal punishment to 14 from the present 16; and revise the police law.

If serious legislative difficulties arise between the ruling and opposition forces, the session may have to be extended for a limited period to process the bills. However, the schedule will be extremely tight, because the government will have to compile a fiscal 2001 budget and make preparations for its reorganization, including a Cabinet reshuffle, before the end of the year. The government and the LDP will face a hard decision on political priorities.

Furthermore, the top governing party, the LDP, and the No. 1 opposition party, the DPJ, are losing much of their political influence. In the ruling coalition, New Komeito’s influence has increased, forcing the LDP to accept its demands. The New Conservative Party remains weak and has little influence.

The opposition forces — consisting of the DPJ, the Japan Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party — are in disarray and do not have the political solidarity needed to challenge the ruling forces. The LP is at the right end of the opposition camp, and the JCP and the SDP are on the left, with the DPJ in the center. These wide political differences make the four-party opposition camp less united than the ruling coalition.

The LDP and the DPJ are also troubled by a deepening generation gap between young dissidents and the old guard. In the LDP, young lawmakers have formed a group to oppose the old conservatives.

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