The five-month-long regular session of the Diet is over and the House of Councillors is bracing for a triennial election in July. During the session, legislators of both the ruling and opposition camps fretted over the prospect of the House of Representatives being dissolved for a snap general election to coincide with the upper house poll.
Under such circumstances, the governing bloc skirted around taking up issues in the legislature that were inconvenient to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We dread this kind of trend becoming the norm.
While the heavily rumored double election of the upper and lower chambers was ultimately shelved, the attention of both the ruling and opposition parties focused on the question of whether Abe would disband the lower chamber for a general poll. As a result, deliberations on domestic and foreign affairs in the Diet ended up quite far from sufficient.
The dissolution of the lower house is an important political act. Since Abe returned to power in late 2012, however, the prevailing mood has been that the prime minister can dissolve the lower chamber at whim, and the ruling coalition goes along with the line. Consequently, legislators are constantly conscious about the possibility of an election coming their way at any time, more so than ever, leaving Diet deliberations second on their agenda. Such an attitude among lawmakers contributes to nothing but the degradation of the Diet’s functions.
After the turn of the year, the government headed into the regular Diet session with the submission of fewer bills that would come into conflict with opposition parties, apparently in anticipation of the upper house race. The move came in spite of the ordinary session having had the potential to provide a favorable opportunity for the ruling and opposition parties to delve into mid- and long-term challenges faced by Japan, such as depopulation.
The ruling bloc is to blame for missing out on such a golden opportunity. Its failure is epitomized by the uproar over a Financial Services Agency panel report stating that an average elderly couple would need 20 million yen in addition to their public pension benefits to fund a 30-year post-retirement life. While the report came under fire, it could have spurred the ruling and opposition parties to debate the future of Japan’s social security system, from medical and nursing care services to the pension program.
However, Finance Minister and Financial Services Minister Taro Aso suppressed Diet discussions on the issue by pretending that the report never existed. It is very unusual that the budget committee in neither chamber of the Diet was convened after April.
The government’s statistical irregularities became a focal point of contention during the former half of the regular Diet session, yet the scandal remains unresolved. Even though observers have begun to say the Japanese economy is facing a downturn, Prime Minister Abe kept bragging about the achievements of his administration’s economic policy mix known as “Abenomics.”
With regard to the stalled negotiations with Moscow over the Russian-controlled Northern Territories isles off Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, or the issues surrounding North Korea and other matters, Prime Minister Abe did not provide in-depth explanation before the Diet.
The upcoming upper house election is a chance for voters to evaluate the Abe administration’s performance over the past 6 1/2 years. Nonetheless, the administration provided no information necessary for a verdict.
At a press conference on June 26, Prime Minister Abe rapped opposition parties for their reluctance to discuss amendment to the postwar Constitution. However, what should be amended first is his own attitude and behavior that make light of the national legislature.
During the upper house race, the ruling and opposition parties must debate a host of issues that were not discussed during the regular Diet session, and vie for the chamber’s seats up for grabs as the issue of how to revitalize the legislature is at stake.