Partisan politics hobble Diet

A 33-day extraordinary Diet session kicked off on Monday under unusual circumstances. The opposition in the Upper House refused to listen to a policy speech by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on the grounds that the chamber in the previous session passed a censure motion against him. Thus Mr. Noda gave his policy speech only in the Lower House. Such an action is unprecedented since the current Constitution took effect on May 3, 1947.

It is the Diet’s duty to discuss policy matters on the basis of a policy speech given by the prime minister. The refusal to listen to the prime minister’s policy speech runs counter to that principle. While a no-confidence motion by the Lower House against the prime minister has a constitutional basis, a censure motion by the Upper House against the prime minister has no legal basis. Therefore, the constitutionally questionable move by the opposition sets a problematic precedent. If the opposition forces take part in the deliberations in the Upper House budget and other committees, it will be difficult to find any logic in their contradictory courses of action.

The showdown between the ruling and opposition camps is not based on policy differences. Rather it is due to Mr. Noda’s refusal to indicate when he will dissolve the Lower House despite calls to do so by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, respectively the No. 1 and No. 3 opposition parties. In an attempt to have Mr. Noda accede to their demand, the LDP and Komeito have taken hostage a bill to issue bonds to cover some 40 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget.

The delay in the passage of the bill is already causing a reduction of spending from the budget. If this situation continues, it will negatively impact people’s lives. Both Mr. Noda and the opposition camp must place priority on avoiding such a situation. They should make serious efforts to strike a compromise that will allow the deficit-covering bonds issuance bill to be enacted.

Another important issue pending in the Diet is the enactment of bills to rectify the disparity in the value of a vote between depopulated rural areas and urban areas for both Lower and Upper House elections. The passage of a reapportionment bill for the Lower House is particularly urgent because an election will likely to be held sooner than the Upper House election scheduled for next summer. To prevent the Supreme Court from declaring future election results null and void, the DPJ should give up its rather complicated plan for reforming the Lower House election system and the Diet should simply pass a bill to rectify the Lower House vote value disparity as quickly as possible.

Both the ruling and opposition parties should realize that the stalling of Diet business is causing frustration and anxiety among voters and driving them into the arms of new political forces led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.