(Sankei: January 13, 2016 – p. 5)
Initiatives from Osaka [Osaka Ishin no Kai], which takes the position of “neither a ruling party nor an opposition party,” participated in interpellation at the House of Representatives Budget Committee for the first time on Jan. 12. Policy chief Mikio Shimoji strongly criticized the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) for reducing the party’s interpellation time on the grounds that it is a yuto [neither yoto (ruling party) nor yato (opposition party)]. On the other hand, the ruling parties are amused by this, since divisions in the opposition parties will work to their advantage in their effort to promote constitutional revision.
Shimoji persisted in voicing his criticism at the committee, not to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the cabinet ministers sitting in front of him, but to the DPJ members sitting beside him. He was cheered on by ruling party members. It was a curious phenomenon that even Abe sided with Shimoji, remarking that Initiatives from Osaka is an opposition party.
The convention in the Diet is that the ruling parties with a large number of members surrender a good part of their interpellation time to the opposition parties, and the No. 1 opposition party allocates question time to the other opposition parties. Initiatives from Osaka had demanded 1 hour 5 minutes at the Budget Committee, but the DPJ, refusing to recognize this party as an opposition party, allocated only 24 minutes, based purely on the number of Initiatives from Osaka Diet members.
Abe was exasperated by this dispute among the opposition parties. He advised the DPJ gently to apportion question time among the opposition parties equitably. Abe also praised Shimoji for his efforts to project the image of an opposition party focused on presenting counterproposals, saying this is a “very sound approach,” thus demonstrating closeness transcending ruling party-opposition boundaries.
Initiatives from Osaka Secretary General Nobuyuki Baba also stated at a news conference on Jan. 12: “I understand that there is a certain party that would not talk to the Abe administration. We are not taking such a position.” He thus disclaimed the DPJ, which is opposed to constitutional revision under the Abe administration. Reacting to Abe’s call on Initiatives from Osaka to cooperate on constitutional revision, Baba said: “We will definitely want to participate.”
Commenting on what happened at the Budget Committee on Jan. 12, a senior Initiatives from Osaka official who has experienced the splitting up of political parties many times lamented that, “The DPJ is picking a fight with the wrong party.” It would appear that Initiatives from Osaka is likely to become a troublesome drag on the DPJ, which wants to concentrate on questioning the government and the ruling parties.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) may stand to benefit from the discord between Initiatives from Osaka and the DPJ. Divisions in the opposition will not only make it easier to steer Diet affairs but will also facilitate the unification of forces favoring constitutional revision to achieve Abe’s goal.
LDP Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki also made positive remarks on cooperating with Initiatives from Osaka and others on constitutional revision at a news conference on Jan 12.
He also said: “The proper approach is to involve the No. 1 opposition party and win its understanding.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also stated at a news conference that, “As a matter of fact, there are also forces in the DPJ in favor of revising the constitution.” This indicates an intent to sow division in the DPJ on the issue of constitutional revision.
Discord among the opposition parties will work in favor of the ruling parties in terms of management of Diet proceedings, since the deliberation schedule is very tight, with the House of Councillors election approaching in summer. It is with this calculation in mind that the LDP shared the ruling parties’ entitled interpellation time with Initiatives from Osaka at the Budget Committee.
Meanwhile, Komeito is alarmed by this development. Party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi told a news conference on Jan. 12 that with regard to constitutional revision, “the important thing is to form an effective consensus with the largest majority possible, regardless of party boundaries,” voicing indirect criticism of Abe and the LDP. It can be said that he is concerned that the LDP moving closer to Initiatives from Osaka may reduce Komeito’s importance.
LDP General Council Chairman Toshihiro Nikai pointed out at a news conference on Jan. 12: “We still do not have a clear understanding of the opposition parties’ thinking.” He added: “The Constitution is not an issue that requires an answer today or tomorrow. It is better to handle this issue with care.” He thus showed consideration for Komeito’s anxiety. (Slightly abridged)