The Abe administration appears determined to rebuff a demand by five opposition parties to convene an extraordinary session this fall. There are many issues that the Diet must discuss and that people want to be fully informed about, including the policy directions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new Cabinet, more details on the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and the administration’s economic policy. There is no good reason to refuse to convene an extraordinary session, as is customarily done in this season.
Abe had declared that he would continue to make efforts to present thorough explanations about the controversial security legislation, which his ruling coalition rammed through the Diet session that closed last month. Many questions about the legislation remain unanswered. At the very least, the administration should convene a Diet session to fulfill Abe’s pledges.
In recent years, it was only in 2003 and 2005 that the government refused to accept an opposition demand to convene an extraordinary Diet session. In both those years, the Diet conducted substantive deliberations in a special Diet session held in the wake of a Lower House election as required by Article 54 of the Constitution. For example, in the 2005 special Diet session following a general election in which the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won an overwhelming victory, bills for privatizing Japan’s postal services were deliberated upon and enacted.
In calling for an extraordinary session, the Democratic Party of Japan, Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) cited Article 53 of the Constitution, which says in effect that the administration must convene an extraordinary Diet session if a quarter or more of the members of either chamber of the Diet so demands. The number of seats held by the five parties meets this condition.
This is not the first time that the Abe administration engaged in constitutionally questionable behavior. Last year, it arbitrarily changed the long-standing government interpretation of Article 9 of the Constitution to allow Japan to take part in collective self-defense. The government’s security legislation based on the reinterpretation of Article 9 led a former chief justice of the Supreme Court, former chiefs of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and many constitutional law scholars to denounce it as unconstitutional. The administration’s refusal to hold the extraordinary Diet session makes one wonder if it considers itself above the Constitution.
The main reason the administration cites for not holding an autumnal Diet session is the prime minister’s tight diplomatic schedule. Abe, who has been touring Central Asia since last week, is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Seoul on Nov. 1 and attend a G-20 leaders’ summit and a meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in mid-November. But under Diet rules, discussions in the legislature can be held in the prime minister’s absence, so the administration’s rejection of the opposition demand is groundless.
The Abe administration reportedly plans to start the procedure for ratification of the TPP agreement in the next regular Diet session, which will open in January. It also plans to submit an extra budget for fiscal 2015 to fund measures to help farmers likely to be affected by the free trade pact. But since the TPP talks were held behind closed doors, people have no clues as to details of the agreement. Changes to rules concerning investments and protection of intellectual property will also require extensive modifications of related domestic rules. Although the administration denies that the TPP will threaten food safety, the nation’s environmental policy and its public health insurance system, it has not yet disclosed the related text of the agreement. The Diet and the public have yet to be given a chance to closely examine the agreement. The administration has a duty to answer questions concerning the TPP agreement as quickly as possible.
As to the security legislation, the Diet has been unable to fully discuss such matters as the concrete rules for the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces members engaged in the United Nations peacekeeping missions, what legal questions Japan will face if SDF members harm civilians in the course of executing their missions and whether Japan’s supply of munitions and fuel to a multinational force engaged in fighting violates Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
There are many other issues the Diet deserves explanations about from the administration, including what Abe has called the new “three arrows” of his economic policy — the specific measures of which remain unclear — as well as whether a lower rate should be applied to daily necessities when the government raises the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in April 2017. There are also questionable points in the official record of the proceedings of the Upper House, which says that the security legislation was approved on Sept. 19 by the chamber’s special committee — even though it states that verbal exchanges by members of the committee and the committee chairman were inaudible in the confusion that surrounded the committee vote.
The administration reportedly plans to hold a one-day session of the Budget Committee of the Diet’s each chamber to discuss important matters without convening an extraordinary session. It would be problematic if the administration’s position reflects its unwillingness to account for key policy issues before the highest organ of state power.