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With the Diet’s passage of the fiscal 2006 budget, the Koizumi administration has cleared an important hurdle. But the Diet is in a sad state following the Democratic Party of Japan’s blunder in its handling of an e-mail message presented by a DPJ lawmaker alleging shady financial ties between disgraced Livedoor Co. founder Takafumi Horie and the second son of Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe. After the party determined that the e-mail message was a fake, the DPJ appeared to lose its drive and was unable to launch serious Diet discussions on important issues that people want the Diet to delve into.

It is regrettable that the DPJ failed to engage the government in heated discussions on the budget, which gives a financial basis for the administration’s various measures and directly affects people’s lives. The Diet should not be turned into a conveyor belt for passing bills. The DPJ needs to awaken to its duty as the No. 1 opposition party and do its utmost to deepen Diet debates. This is the only way for the party to regain people’s trust and for the Diet to function normally.

At one time, the DPJ had an opportunity to launch an offensive in the Diet against the Koizumi administration. There were issues that the party could have politically exploited to its advantage — such as the U.S. beef-import issue, the falsification of earthquake-resistance data by structural designer Mr. Hidetsugu Aneha, the LDP’s support for Mr. Horie as a candidate in the Sept. 11 general elections, and bid-rigging by Defense Facilities Agency officials.

In the U.S. beef-import issue, it was found that despite the Cabinet’s promise to the Diet in November that it would send officials to check U.S. meat processing plants before resuming imports, no officials were dispatched until Dec. 13. The DPJ failed to corner the government on this point.

As for the fabrication of quake-resistance data, Mr. Kosuke Ito, former director general of the National Land Agency, was suspected of having arranged a meeting between Mr. Susumu Ojima, president of Huser Ltd., a housing developing firm, and officials of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry. Although Mr. Ito was forced to address this suspicion in the Diet, the DPJ could not mount an effective attack on him.

Nor could the DPJ and other opposition parties collect enough material to go after the government in connection with the bid-rigging by Defense Facilities Agency officials.

With regard to the LDP’s support for Mr. Horie in the general elections, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi admitted that he was ready to accept criticism for his party’s behavior. The DPJ could have used the Livedoor issue to shed light on the “shadows” of Mr. Koizumi’s reform policy — such as a widening income gap between the haves and have-nots and an increase in the number of irregular workers. The party could have offered its grand policy vision for rectifying problems resulting from the deregulation policy of the Koizumi administration, thus projecting the party as an alternative for the present government. But the DPJ has blown apart all its opportunities because of its blunder in the e-mail scandal.

Now that the budget has been passed, the Diet’s focus will shift to debates on a bill to promote administrative reform that, under the basic idea of realizing simple and efficient government, sets schedules and numerical targets for future reform. This bill not only puts the finishing touches on Mr. Koizumi’s reform policy but also will serve as the basic framework for a future administration after Mr. Koizumi’s. Given the nature of this bill, the DPJ is urged all the more to generate in-depth discussions so that the public will be informed about its details and be able to form their own judgment on it.

The bill calls for, among other things, at least a 5 percent cut in the 687,000-strong national public-servant workforce (including members of the Self-Defense Forces), integration of four government-affiliated financial institutions into one and a one-third to one-half reduction in the number of special government accounts that have been criticized for creating waste.

Apart from the bill, there are a wide-range of issues the public would like to see the Diet discuss fully — pensions, medical services, financial reconstruction, taxes, withdrawal of the Ground Self-Defense Force from Iraq, a national referendum bill for a possible constitutional revision, a new rule for imperial succession, a revision of the basic law on education, realignment of U.S. military bases in Japan, etc.

The Diet should not waste any more time in discussing basic policy measures that would shape the future of Japan. The DPJ cannot afford to waddle any longer in the apathy created by the e-mail blooper.

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