Confusion reigns in the current extraordinary Diet session, with the opposition forces boycotting debate to protest the ruling bloc’s forcible move to revise the Upper House election system.

The governing alliance — made up of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — is sponsoring legislation that would change the election-roster system in the chamber’s proportional-representation section. The opposition camp — consisting of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the Japan Communist Party and the Socialist Democratic Party — has boycotted almost all committee debate in both houses in protest against the bill revising the Public Offices Election Law.

The 72-day session, which opened Sept. 21 and will last until Dec. 1, is unusually long for an extra session. Scheduled for debate are several important bills that would ban influence peddling by lawmakers; grant voting rights in local elections to permanent foreign residents; revise the police law; and lower the age at which juvenile offenders would become subject to criminal punishment to 14 from the present 16. With the opposition forces boycotting debate, the session will have little chance of enacting these major bills.

The governing alliance’s election-reform bill calls for changing the roster system for candidates nominated in the proportional-representation segment of Upper House polls. Currently, parties predetermine the priority of such candidates. Under the bill, however, the roster would be unranked and voters would choose either a party or a candidate; parties would allocate seats in a way that reflects individual candidates’ performances.

The ruling bloc introduced the legislation to mitigate public criticism of the present election-roster system, which led to a political corruption scandal involving former Financial Reconstruction Commission Chairman Kimitaka Kuze, a member of Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet. It was also politically expedient to put the ruling bloc in a favorable position in the Upper House election to be held next June.

Electoral systems are the foundation of democratic politics. To change the system, a neutral commission should conduct careful discussions, and all parties should take part in Diet debate. It is outrageous for the ruling bloc to rush such important legislation without conducting discussions with other parties.

On the other hand, the opposition camp has its own problems. The four opposition parties finally agreed Tuesday to boycott all Diet proceedings to protest the ruling bloc’s move, after disagreeing on strategies. Some members of the DPJ apparently felt that the top opposition party would in some ways benefit from the proposed reform. Their views were not dissimilar to those held by LDP politicians, who attach great importance to partisan interests.

Not surprisingly, LDP officials apparently thought that under the proposed system, some of the celebrities or entertainers running on the LDP ticket would each collect more votes than three or four ordinary candidates combined. That should greatly boost the LDP’s strength. Furthermore, the DPJ, which is generally supported by urban voters without party affiliations, expected that celebrities or entertainers running as DPJ candidates would receive even more voter support than their LDP rivals.

Amid the political confusion stemming from the ruling and opposition forces’ Diet strategies, all parties must ponder ways of breaking the deadlock on the basis of the principle that the election system is the foundation of parliamentary politics.

Upper House President Juro Saito, 60, who took up his post at a much younger age than his predecessors, is known for his mild personality and fairness. Let me propose that he use his power to end the confusion in the Diet and establish a suprapartisan Diet committee, with the participation of outside experts, to discuss electoral reform. The present confusion should end so the Diet can process the important bills that are pending.

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