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Editorial: Commission on Constitution must discuss preparation for emergencies

  • May 29, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 12:42 p.m.
  • English Press

As society changes, there are many issues to be addressed from the perspective of the Constitution. The Commission on the Constitution must do what it is supposed to do.


The House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution has held its first free debate of the current Diet session. This is the first such event in six months, since November last year.


The commission meeting was delayed because opposition parties opposed holding it in light of the coronavirus epidemic. It is true that countermeasures against infectious diseases were an urgent task, but other committees in the Diet are discussing that matter. This should not be a reason to reject the commission meeting for a long time.


In the debate, the Liberal Democratic Party raised the question regarding emergency situations, “Isn’t it urgently necessary to have a discussion from the perspective of ensuring the functioning of the Diet?” Nippon Ishin no Kai also stressed that “the debate on creating an emergency provision is a pressing matter.”


The Constitution states that a plenary session of both houses of the Diet must have at least one-third of the total number of members present in order to be held. Concern has been raised that the plenary session will not be able to be held in the event of situations such as an outbreak of infectious disease. A constitutional debate on how the legislature should function in an emergency is essential.


The Constitution states that the term of office of Diet members is four years in the House of Representatives and six years in the House of Councillors. If a major disaster occurs near the end of members’ terms of office, it will be difficult to hold national elections, which could result in the absence of lawmakers for some areas.


However, some parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People did not discuss emergency situations in depth at the commission meeting. These parties are perhaps wary of seeing discussion on constitutional revision proceed under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is eager to revise the Constitution.


The spread of the infectious disease has affected society and the lives of the people. How should the government and people prepare for a national emergency? It is necessary to keep discussing the interpretation and issues of the Constitution. The ruling and opposition parties must deepen their discussions from a broad perspective.


At the commission meeting, the LDP called for the passage of a bill to revise the National Referendum Law, which has been carried over to the current Diet session from the previous session. The bill calls for setting up so-called common polling stations at places such as commercial facilities to make voting more convenient. It is quite reasonable to enact the bill as soon as possible.


Some parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, insisted that discussions on strengthening restrictions on television and radio commercials in a national referendum should take priority over the bill to revise the referendum law. They are concerned about the impact of political parties and other organizations with financial resources running large amounts of advertising.


To encourage active expression of opinions, activities related to a national referendum would be free in principle. In light of the intent of the law, stricter regulations should be carefully considered.


Spending on internet advertising exceeds that of TV advertising. With the spread of social media, which allows individuals to freely express their opinions, is it appropriate to tighten regulations only on television? Apart from the revision bill, a wide range of discussions are needed.


— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 29, 2020.

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