Once again a Lower House resolution recommending the resignation of the scandal-tainted lawmaker, Mr. Muneo Suzuki, has been shelved. A motion calling for such a resolution to be brought before a plenary session of the House of Representatives was rejected Tuesday, with the Liberal Democratic Party and New Conservative Party voting against it. This is the second time since March that a resolution calling for Suzuki’s resignation has been derailed.
This time around, voting in the Rules and Administration Committee was evenly divided, because New Komeito, which had voted against the motion in March, broke away from the ruling camp and backed the motion. In the end, Mr. Kunio Hatoyama, the chairman of the committee, used his deciding vote to reject the motion. The fact that it was a close contest does nothing to assuage the anger raised by the outcome. After all, the situation now is very different from what it was in March. The scandals surrounding Mr. Suzuki have developed into criminal investigations with the arrest of his state-paid first secretary and construction operators in Hokkaido.
The ruling parties blocked the progress of the Lower House resolution even though they are well aware that the public is keeping a keen eye on Mr. Suzuki’s conduct and the responses of the parties. Such action utterly ignores public opinion and makes a mockery of the popular will. Criticism that the LDP is making a fool of the public is inevitable.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi failed to express any opinion about the vote on the motion this time, thereby making it clear that his behavior in March, when for a moment he displayed an eagerness to bring the matter before the Lower House, was nothing more than showmanship. If this situation continues, politics and the Diet are going to drift farther and farther away from their fundamental duty of carrying out the will of the people. And even if politicians loftily talk of political reform, nobody is going to believe them.
At the moment the Diet is plagued by a spate of scandals. Three lawmakers have already been driven to resignation. That situation in itself is abnormal. Even more offensive is the fact that Mr. Suzuki, protected by the LDP, calmly continues to take his seat in the Lower House in stubborn denial of overwhelming public opinion against his continued service as a lawmaker.
The LDP and others are obsessed with the idea that elected members of the Diet should resign of their own accord. This notion, of course, is correct, but there is more to the matter than that. In order for the Diet, which holds the trust of the people, to thoroughly embrace political ethics, it is essential not only for individual lawmakers to have values and make decisions but also for the Diet as a whole to display self-cleansing powers backed by bold punitive measures.
The argument that a lawmaker has an important duty to carry out and should not be easily forced to resign is understandable. But when one lawmaker behaves in such a way that other lawmakers suffer a loss of honor, who is going to protect the important duties of those lawmakers and how? Only the Diet can fulfill this role. In addition, the opinion that ultimate judgment should be made in an election — in other words, that it is the voters in the said lawmaker’s constituency who should have the final word on his resignation — is akin to saying that the Diet as a whole should abandon its responsibilities.
As long as Mr. Suzuki refuses to take political and moral responsibility for his actions, the only way forward is for the Diet to take all punitive steps available under the present system. At the same time, it must implement, as soon as possible, fundamental measures to prevent such scandals from happening again. However, the LDP, which is shielding Mr. Suzuki, does not appear to have the guts to carry out tangible reform.
This was recently shown when an emergency appeal calling for restrained contact between lawmakers and bureaucrats, proposed by an LDP committee working on a national vision, was virtually stifled in just two party meetings. One former prime minister reportedly strongly opposed the appeal, arguing that labeling all lawmakers with close ties to certain industries or sectors of society as “evil” was nothing more than steamrollering and that the real problem lay in the personalities of individual Diet members. But the present situation, in which there is an endless stream of lawmakers who lack character and decency, and are unable to distinguish between politics and bureaucracy, should clearly indicate to the Diet and politicians that reform can only be achieved through strict systems and rules.
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