The second party leaders’ debate in the current Diet session was held on June 27, following the first one held on May 30. The party leaders were unable to engage in in-depth discussions on domestic politics and foreign policy issues, and the results of the debate were unsatisfactory. One reason was the short discussion time of only 45 minutes. The opposition parties are clamoring for a radical reform of the system.
The opposition is particularly dissatisfied with the current system of allotting question time. On top of the little time given to each party because of the proliferation of opposition parties resulting from breakup of parties, a total of five party leaders spoke in this session, the largest number on record.
The Group of Independents, which had given its allotted 3 minutes to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) in the last party leaders’ debate, participated this time, with its leader, Katsuya Okada, speaking for 6 minutes. As a result, CDPJ leader Yukio Edano had the shortest time ever for a leader of the number one opposition party.
This also resulted in three out of the five opposition speakers exceeding their allotted time. Talking to reporters after the session, Democratic Party for the People (DPFP) co-leader Kohei Otsuka suggested: “We need around 2 hours (for the entire debate), or we could make it a rule to hold the debate every week, with only two leaders speaking in each session.”
The prime minister’s response is also counted in the time allotment in the party leaders’ debate. Edano told reporters: “If the prime minister gives a long response, our question time is actually reduced.” He demanded that time allotted be used exclusively for an opposition party leader’s questions.
However, the ruling parties are not keen on extending question time. They agreed in 2014 to hold leaders’ debates once a month in principle with the aim of reducing the prime minister’s attendance at Budget Committee sessions and other Diet meetings. Longer time for party leaders’ debate would defeat the original purpose of reducing the time spent by the prime minister in Diet sessions.
The number of party leaders’ debates held diminished from the peak of eight times in 2000, when this system was officially launched. No debate was held last year.
Senior party officials’ statements on the leaders’ debate
CPDJ leader Yukio Edano:
The party leaders’ debate has practically lost its historical significance. (to reporters after the party leaders’ debate on May 30)
If this is held two or three times a month, we will be able to have in-depth discussions by narrowing down the focus. (to reporters on June 27)
DPFP co-leader Kohei Otsuka:
We need to make changes in the way this is conducted so it will have greater historical significance. We need around two hours for each session. (to reporters on June 27)
Japanese Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii:
It is necessary to have more time. (to reporters on June 27)
Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) co-leader Toranosuke Katayama:
It is not possible to conduct a substantial discussion with competition for time between the ones asking questions and the one giving the answers. This is just a political show. (to reporters on June 27)
House of Representatives floor group “Group of Independents” leader Katsuya Okada:
The situation now is different from when there were only one or two opposition parties. It is important to devote adequate time.” (to reporters on June 27)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (LDP president):
I thought (the party leaders’ debate) has outlived its usefulness. (at the party leaders’ debate on June 27)
LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida:
It’s not just a question of allotting more time. The ultimate point of the debate is to discuss the vision of the state in a limited amount of time. (at a news conference on June 27)