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TOKYO REPORT: Koizumi’s parliamentary reform making little progress

  • August 14, 2019
  • , Jiji Press , 7:30 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Aug. 14 (Jiji Press) — Reform of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, under popular lawmaker Shinjiro Koizumi of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is progressing at a snail’s pace.

“To move reforms in the Diet forward, we should set a period and open up a path, no matter how small it is,” Koizumi said after the first meeting in June last year of a cross-party council of lawmakers for reforming the House of Representatives during Heisei, Japan’s era name that ended on April 30.

The council proposed a set of reform measures the following month–debates between political party leaders every two weeks and at night, use of tablet computers for paperless processing of written questions to the government and government answers, and proxy voting for female lawmakers at times of childbirth.

After the new era of Reiwa started in May, the paperless processing of questions and answers partially started the same month.

But the regular debates between party leaders have not been achieved, with one held on June 19 for the first time in about a year.

The proposal for proxy voting has been shelved after the LDP’s Diet Affairs Committee questioned whether the practice might run counter to the constitutional clause that “all matters shall be decided, in each House, by a majority of those present.”

Parliamentary reform has made little progress due to the presence of rigid practices in the Diet and different motives in the ruling and opposition camps.

Koizumi stresses that reform is necessary to reduce the required presence of the prime minister and other cabinet ministers during deliberations in the Diet, which is long by international standards.

But opposition lawmakers lay weight on the legislative branch’s oversight of the government and invigoration of deliberations in the Diet. In addition, they oppose a cut in the presence of the prime minister and other cabinet ministers in debate as they are eager to impress their voters by grilling ministers.

Within the opposition camp, furthermore, parties differ on reform. Kenta Izumi, a member of the Democratic Party for the People, who serves as secretary-general of the cross-party council, said, “We will promote from within parliamentary reforms that are not under the ruling bloc’s leadership.”

A middle-ranking lawmaker of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said the party keeps a distance from the council to avoid being “drawn into reform benefiting the governing camp.” The biggest opposition party has proposed reforms on its own, such as extending the length of debates between party leaders.

The ruling and opposition camps could agree on the paperless processing of written questions to the government and government answers “without self-interest,” Koizumi said, praising the council for “letting some air in.”

At the council’s meeting on July 4, members called this achievement “a great leap forward.” But Motohisa Furukawa, deputy chief of the DPFP, said, “We should focus our discussions on contentious issues for mutual compromises in the next Diet session.”

The slow progress on the proposed reforms is partly attributable to Koizumi himself.

The paperless processing of written questions and answers is “an accomplishment, though small, thanks to Koizumi’s ability to send out messages and take action,” said a middle-ranking member of the LDP.

But a veteran DPFP lawmaker said any kind of work “hardly advances because of jealousy from ruling party members whenever he (Koizumi) comes to the front.”

A senior member of the LDP committee said, “More reform is impossible because anything Koizumi does tends to be viewed as a performance for public attention.”

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