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The current 150th Diet session is in unprecedented chaos over an electoral reform bill to revise the Upper House voting system. The bill would change the roster system for candidates nominated in the proportional-representation segment of the Upper House polls. Currently, parties predetermine the ranks of the candidates. Under the new system, the roster would be unranked and voters would choose either a party or a candidate instead of a party, as is currently done. The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party abruptly introduced the bill and railroaded it through an Upper House special committee after only four days of debate, in defiance of an opposition boycott.

Electoral reform was one of the major tasks that my Cabinet promised to undertake in the 1990s. We had great difficulty in enacting a bill that would revise the Public Offices Election Law to change the Lower House polling system. Diet passage of the bill replaced a 70-year-old multiseat-constituency system with the current system that combines single-seat districts and a national proportional-representation section. The LDP — then part of the opposition after losing a general election — and the Japan Communist Party opposed the legislation. Since changes in an electoral system affect all Diet members’ interests, they are often difficult to implement.

In seeking electoral reform, the current ruling alliance is employing completely different strategies than my government did. We discussed why the reform was needed and how the reform bill should be compiled. The Recruit stocks-for-favor scandal stirred active debate on political reform.

The LDP, which was in power before my government was established, had worked out an electoral-reform bill on the basis of debate by a group of intellectuals, the party’s own political-reform committee and the Eighth Election System Council, which served under the prime minister. The bill was dropped twice, under the administrations of Prime Ministers Toshiki Kaifu and Kiichi Miyazawa. My administration, which took power as the first non-LDP government in 38 years, took up the task of implementing electoral reform. Five years had passed since electoral reform was first proposed, and opinion polls showed that the Japanese people overwhelmingly supported it. I was determined to break a political stalemate and open a new chapter in Japanese political history by changing the multiseat-constituency system.

The latest reform bill was abruptly introduced in the Diet after former Financial Reconstruction Commission Chairman Kimitaka Kuze was implicated in a scandal involving the LDP’s roster of candidates in an Upper House election. This plan was unreasonable, because all political parties had agreed last February that the next Upper House election would be held under the present polling system. LDP leaders in the Upper House were reportedly afraid that the party would lose its majority in the chamber in the 2001 election if it was held under the present system. The number of votes cast for the LDP in the proportional-representation section of the 2000 Lower House election was 8 million less than those cast for LDP candidates in single-seat districts. That meant that the present system of allowing voters to cast ballots for parties was a curse for the LDP.

It is obvious that the pending electoral-reform bill was worked out to serve the LDP’s partisan interests. The party says that the Eighth Election System Council recommended a switch to the proposed system. However, it is strange for the party to propose reform now, after shelving the issue for a decade. Clearly, the LDP has ulterior motives.

My government and the present LDP government sharply differ in promoting Diet debate on electoral reform. We spent about four months from the introduction of an electoral-reform bill in the Diet to the assurance of its passage, and we had overwhelming public support all the while. Another month was required for the enactment of the revised Public Offices Election Law. Then LDP President Yohei Kono and I agreed on a deal to secure the enactment of the bill. My mission was to have the bill enacted, after five years of debate on political reform and on the basis of strong public support for the reform expressed in a general election. The present ruling coalition’s railroading of an electoral-reform bill is outrageous, to say the least.

When it switched in 1982 to the present roster-based Upper House voting system from the old national constituency system, the LDP used much more caution. At that time, it all started with a speech in an Upper House plenary session to explain the intent of the bill. The special committee in charge of the issue allowed political groups without committee seats to attend its sessions and make statements. At that Diet session, the bill was carried over to the next session. An Upper House plenary session of an ordinary Diet session on July 16, 1982, approved the bill. The full Lower House gave final approval to the bill on Aug. 18. The enactment of the bill came after the LDP used strong persuasive tactics to override opposition resistance to the bill.

In recent Diet activities, the ruling coalition has used strong-arm tactics against the opposition. In the 147th ordinary Diet session that opened last January, the prime minister delivered a policy speech and leaders of the ruling parties questioned him about his policies amid an opposition boycott. The coalition also enacted a bill for cutting the number of Lower House proportional-representation seats without Upper House committee debate. These acts were unprecedented in Japan’s parliamentary history.

The opposition’s Diet boycott strategy is fraught with problems. However, opposition lawmakers are often given only 10 minutes to express disapproval of government-sponsored bills in a plenary session before they are enacted. Opposition forces thus believe they can better publicize their position through a Diet boycott.

In Western countries, opposition legislators do not often boycott Parliament because they are allowed to make many speeches and propose many amendments. A boycott would have little effect in publicizing their positions. I believe that the Diet law should be revised so that opposition forces will have more say in the future, when the ruling and opposition forces are likely to vie for power.

During the 38 years of one-party rule that started in 1955, the LDP implemented a Diet policy of engagement, when possible, with the opposition forces, without invoking the efficiency-oriented Diet law and regulations. Now the LDP is less inclined to do so, and often invokes the law and regulations to expedite Diet proceedings.

The LDP is obviously intent on using the new Upper House voting system to field celebrities as its candidates and secure votes through industrial groups. This is nothing new. The old LDP used those tactics in the past when it faced difficulties collecting votes.

The recent victory of a novelist over an LDP-supported former vice governor in the Nagano gubernatorial election revealed earthshaking changes in Japanese politics. The LDP should anticipate changes and move ahead of the times, instead of clinging to old strategies.

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