The world is reeling from severe turmoil. The Middle East situation remains volatile after an emergency summit in Egypt ended with a shaky pact to halt violence between Israelis and Palestinians, skyrocketing crude-oil prices are threatening a new oil crisis and the U.S. economy is showing signs of trouble after a long boom.
Japan is no exception in a trouble-plagued world. Politics and the economy have been hit by turbulence. On Wednesday, the Nikkei average on the Tokyo Stock Exchange plunged below the psychologically important barrier of 15,000, reflecting investors’ anxieties over the political and economic difficulties. Government officials are trying to convince the nation that robust economic recovery will start soon, but most people take that with a grain of salt amid fears of unemployment and angst over life after retirement. They are increasingly distrustful of politics and politicians.
On Oct. 13, the ruling triumvirate railroaded an electoral reform bill through an Upper House committee amid an opposition boycott. The new polling system would allow voters to vote for either a party or an independent candidate in the proportional-representation section of the Upper House, instead of just a party, as is presently the case. Upper House President Juro Saito resigned Wednesday to take responsibility for his failed mediation to end a Diet statement over the legislation, after both the ruling coalition and the opposition forces rejected his proposal.
Changes in an electoral system, which forms the foundation of parliamentary politic, must be thoroughly discussed. The ruling coalition was fascistic in railroading the electoral-reform bill without substantive debate, ignoring proposed amendments. It violated the fundamental principles of parliamentary politics, especially after agreeing with the opposition forces last spring not to introduce the bill in the current extraordinary Diet session. Under the agreement, Diet debate on the issue was to take place after the Upper House election to be held in June 2001.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party moved to reform the electoral system because it feared that it would otherwise lose the upcoming election. The move, intended to serve the LDP’s partisan interests, can seriously damage parliamentary democracy.
Amid the confusion in national politics, novelist Yasuo Tanaka won the gubernatorial election in Nagano Sunday, breaking a 50-year tradition in the prefecture of electing former vice governors on the recommendation of incumbent governors. Tanaka’s victory in a race that pitted a former bureaucrat against a private citizen demonstrated the voters’ anger over collusive ties between politicians and bureaucrats in prefectural politics. Tanaka won by a margin of 110,000 votes, even though his conservative rival had the support of the LDP and some members of the top opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan.
Former Upper House President Saito advocated fairness and neutrality. In intervening in the Diet impasse, he probably pondered the history of Japan’s bicameral parliamentary system. The prewar Diet consisted of a House of Peers and a House of Representatives. Under the postwar Constitution, the Upper House was created as the equivalent of the U.S. Senate and the British House of Lords following discussions with U.S. Occupation authorities. I hope that the Upper House will learn a lesson from the latest chaos and re-establish itself as a chamber where sound judgment prevails.
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