In yet another instance of “tyranny of the majority,” the Abe administration is acting in contempt of the legislature.
The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are set on cutting the length of question time allotted to opposition parties in the Diet. Their claim is that the opposition parties are getting more time than they deserve in proportion to the number of seats they hold, and that this situation should be rectified.
Having won the Oct. 22 Lower House election by a landslide, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reportedly instructed senior LDP officials to take action, noting, “Voters have given us an overwhelming mandate, and they are paying close attention to our words.”
We cannot possibly condone what Abe intends to do.
Diet members are representatives of the Japanese people, so everyone should be given an equal chance to ask questions.
But the LDP and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, receive government briefings on bills and budget plans and approve them before they are presented to the Diet. Since the coalition’s opinions are reflected in the briefing process, whatever questions coalition members ask in the Diet are almost entirely calculated to support the government bills and plans.
This is precisely why opposition parties must fulfill their vital function of closely checking the appropriateness of government-sponsored bills. To slash the question time allotted to them could be tantamount to making a mockery of Diet deliberations.
Let us recollect the deliberations on the anti-conspiracy bill earlier this year.
The government initially refused to take questions from opposition parties, claiming the bill had yet to be compiled. The government and the ruling coalition worked together to reduce the number of crimes subject to the legislation and thus effectively amended the bill. The bill was ultimately approved by the Cabinet.
In the Upper House, opposition parties participated in the questioning for about two months, after which the ruling coalition arbitrarily ended committee deliberations and steamrolled the bill through the chamber.
As for deliberations on the casino bill last year, an LDP legislator started reciting the Buddhist Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra) to fill his leftover questioning time.
Such being the situation, what would happen if the question time is allocated in proportion to the number of seats held by each party?
The question time in the Lower House Budget Committee, which in recent years has been generally set at a ratio of “2 for the ruling parties and 8 for opposition parties,” would become “7 for the ruling parties and 3 for opposition parties.”
Should that happen, the Diet’s function of raising questions about bills and budget plans to make them known broadly to the public would certainly deteriorate to the point of virtual dysfunction.
The new formula would also greatly limit opposition parties’ opportunity to pursue issues like the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution scandals–and we suspect that is what Abe wants.
We remind the prime minister that every time he was asked to explain his involvement in the Kake scandal before the Diet, he weaseled out by insisting this was a matter for the Diet to decide. But if he meant what he said, then why is he meddling with the allocation of question time, which is precisely a matter for the Diet to decide?
As the head of the administration, Abe is acting like someone who does not comprehend the principle of separation of the three branches of government.
Although decisions are ultimately made by a majority, Abe’s outright refusal to listen to minority opinions could not be further divorced from the spirit of parliamentary democracy.
A special Diet session is being convened on Nov. 1, but Abe has not even made clear if he would agree to holding deliberations.
After the October election victory, Abe promised to “strive to run the administration with greater humility and sincerity than ever.”
These words mean nothing now.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 1