The Liberal Democratic Party has repeatedly asked Mr. Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, to participate in a one-on-one Diet debate with Prime Minister Taro Aso. But the DPJ has refused. If this situation continues, Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ will create the impression that they have chosen to remain silent about the arrest and indictment of Mr. Ozawa’s chief secretary over alleged irregularities concerning political donations from political groups established by Nishimatsu Construction Co.

The LDP first proposed that a debate between the two party leaders be held April 8. When the DPJ refused, the LDP proposed two more potential debate dates — April 15 and April 22 — but each time the DPJ refused, citing an earlier agreement that a debate would not be held during a week when the prime minister appears in a plenary session of either Diet chamber or a session of either chamber’s budget committee. This agreement, however, is solely intended to lighten the prime minister’s workload, and therefore is a poor excuse.

The real reason why the DPJ is declining to debate is apparently because the DPJ believes that the arrest and indictment of Mr. Ozawa’s chief secretary has put him in a weaker position. It is odd that the DPJ doesn’t seem to realize that Mr. Ozawa’s refusal to debate only serves to further weaken him. It is also worth recalling that Mr. Ozawa played an important role in institutionalizing such debates in 2000, when he was head of the Liberal Party. Mr. Aso and Mr. Ozawa have had just one Diet debate, on Nov. 28. At that time, Mr. Ozawa was on the offensive, accusing Mr. Aso of postponing the dissolution of the Lower House. As a Lower House election nears, it is all the more important for the LDP and DPJ leaders to hold debates in the Diet over pressing issues, such as the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget, issuance of national bonds worth more than ¥40 trillion and an anti-piracy bill.

It is unreasonable for Mr. Ozawa to continue his stumping tours yet refuse to debate Mr. Aso. He should go before the Diet and give a thorough explanation of the political donations he received and if he does not agree with his aide’s indictment, provide detailed criticism in support of his position. Remaining silent could raise suspicion that Mr. Ozawa may have played a role in the scandal involving his secretary.

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