The Yomiuri Shimbun
Has question time provided an opportunity for the leaders of ruling and opposition parties to broadly discuss policies or the state of politics?
The debate between the prime minister and opposition party leaders was held in the Diet, for the first time since December 2016. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of four opposition parties debated one-on-one.
Yukio Edano, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, took up issues in connection with the sale of state-owned land to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen and the establishment of a new veterinary department at a university operated by the Kake Educational Institution.
Over the problems related to Moritomo Gakuen, Edano questioned the involvement of Abe’s wife, Akie, and called for summoning her as a sworn witness to the Diet. With regard to problems over the Kake Educational Institution, Edano raised allegations of Abe’s provision of special favors to Kotaro Kake, head of the Kake Educational Institution and a personal friend.
Both issues have been discussed many times in the Diet in the past.
Abe responded to Edano’s question, by saying “When questioned on the same issue, I will give the same answer,” denying any involvement of himself or his wife.
It is meaningless if the leaders’ debate becomes a mere repetition of what has been discussed during past deliberations at Diet committee meetings. It should be said that the debate between Abe and Edano was unsatisfactory.
Regarding the U.S. government’s proposed tariffs on imported vehicles, coleader of the Democratic Party for the People Yuichiro Tamaki, who views the measures as problematic, noted that unless Japan says what it should say, and unless Japan does what it should do, the free and open trade system will fall apart.
Find suitable approach
Abe responded that it is hard to understand that the United States would impose such measures on Japan, an allied country. From the viewpoint of securing national interests, he also said with emphasis that the government has been responding to the United States with its own strategy.
With regards to the Japan-Russia negotiations over the northern territories, Tamaki urged Abe to obtain a firm commitment from U.S. President Donald Trump that U.S. forces would not be stationed on the islands when the four islands are returned to Japan. Abe responded by saying that details of the negotiations cannot be disclosed.
It is a matter of regret that Abe did not show any prospects of or a determination to effect a breakthrough in the territorial issues, which appear to be stagnant.
Tamaki deserves credit for his having actively challenged Abe on a battle of words as a leader of a recently established party.
The total time for the leaders’ Diet debate, including responses from the prime minister, is set at 45 minutes. The time allocated to each leader is in accordance with the number of members in each parliamentary group. As Kazuo Shii, the leader of the Japanese Communist Party, was given six minutes, while Toranosuke Katayama, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, was given five minutes, their debates with Abe failed to develop substantially. An increase in the amount of time allocated to debating is worth considering.
In May 2014, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to hold the leaders’ Diet debate every month.
As it is convenient for the opposition parties to question the prime minister at the longer budget committee meetings, they are negative about leaders’ debates.
But such a situation should be avoided as one that would impede the management of the national administration, by having the prime minister held up for hours with deliberations at Diet committee sessions.
At the British Parliament, Prime Minister’s Question Time — which served as a model for the leaders’ Diet debate in Japan — has been held regularly under a two major-party system.
Given the current state of affairs of both the ruling and opposition parties in Japan, it is worth studying what the leaders’ debates should be like in the Diet.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 31, 2018)