The holding of a party leaders’ debate, which did not take place at all last year, in the current Diet session is now in limbo. While the ruling and opposition parties have coordinated on holding the debate on May 30, the opposition parties are now losing their enthusiasm. This is because the amount of time allotted to each party is now shorter as a result of the opposition’s fragmentation.
Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) leader Yukio Edano told reporters in Okayama City on May 13: “No substantial debate will be possible. I would rather like to confront the prime minister in intensive sessions of the Budget Committee (where there will be more time for questioning).”
With the Democratic Party’s (DP) breakup, there are now more opposition parties than the previous three that can participate in the debate. As a result, while the DP, then the number one opposition party, was given 32 minutes in the last party leaders’ debate in December 2016, this time, if the debate is held, the CDPJ will have 17 minutes; the Democratic Party for the People (DPFP), 14 minutes; the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), 6 minutes; Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), 5 minutes; and the opposition floor group in the House of Representatives Group of Independents, 3 minutes, according to calculations by the CDPJ secretariat.
Unlike deliberations in the intensive sessions of the Budget Committee, cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats do not answer questions in the leaders’ debate. The point is opposition leaders will be able to challenge Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a one-on-one basis. On the other hand, Budget Committee sessions with the prime minister in attendance sometimes run for 7 hours each day and more than half of the time is allotted to the opposition, giving them plenty of time to grill the prime minister.
Edano’s remark was in light of the change in the situation surrounding the leaders’ debate. Nevertheless, differences also exist among the opposition parties. DPFP co-leader Yuichiro Tamaki showed great enthusiasm when he spoke to reporters in the Diet on May 14. He said: “We certainly hope that the debate will take place.”
The opposition is demanding more time for the debates or to hold them more frequently, but the ruling parties are not amenable because the ruling and opposition parties have agreed previously that the debates will last for 45 minutes each time and they will not be held during the weeks when the prime minister is appearing in the Budget Committee or plenary sessions.
JCP Diet Affairs Committee chief Keiji Kokuta pointed out that the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is keen on holding the debate “mainly because it wants to reduce the time for questioning the prime minister,” implying that the LDP is trying to reduce Abe’s attendance in committee meetings by holding the leaders’ debate.
With the Diet slated to adjourn on June 20, an LDP Diet Affairs Committee official observes that the leaders’ debate will only be held once during the current session “at best.” Another LDP Diet affairs officer said that “it would look bad if the debate is not held even once during this session.”