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Editorial: It’s time for new Lower House to restore Diet’s watchdog role

  • November 1, 2021
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:29 p.m.
  • English Press
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he ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, Komeito, secured a solid majority in the Lower House in the Oct. 31 Lower House election, held for the first time in four years.

 

The ruling coalition achieved what is known as an “absolute stable majority” by winning a sufficient number of seats to secure the chairman’s post of all the chamber’s standing committees and fill a majority of seats in all committees.

 

This has ensured that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took office just a month ago, will continue leading the nation.

 

Although the voting public has given the Kishida administration a clear mandate, the LDP has suffered a drop in its strength. In a political blow to Kishida, LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari, who has been dogged by bribery allegations, was defeated by an opposition challenger in his single-seat constituency.

 

Kishida and the ruling party should take these facts seriously since they apparently reflect the intention of the people to weaken the LDP’s overwhelming political power to inject healthy tensions into politics.

 

RIGOROUS POSTMORTEM FOR FAILED OPPOSITION ALLIANCE

 

Kishida needs to restore public trust in politics by confronting the ill effects of the political approaches adopted by his two predecessors, former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga.

 

The duo held power for a total of nearly nine years. He also needs to revitalize policy debate at the Diet and hold a constructive dialogue with opposition parties so as to map out effective plans for tackling a range of internal and foreign policy challenges. He has yet to face a real test of his commitment to his promise to attain “careful and tolerant politics.”

 

In the previous Lower House election, called by then Prime Minister Abe, the split-up of the Democratic Party, the largest opposition group at that time, led to a proliferation of opposition candidates, allowing the ruling alliance to win 313 seats, more than two-thirds of the chamber’s total, for a resounding victory.

 

After Abe, who led the ruling coalition to a victory in six consecutive national polls during his prolonged tenure, stepped down and his successor, Suga, was forced to bow out only after a year or so in office due to his misguided responses to the new coronavirus pandemic, the LDP expected a certain loss of seats this time.

 

Still, the defeats of some faction bosses and former and current Cabinet members in single-seat districts indicate that the ruling party, which replaced an unpopular prime minister shortly before the election to change its face for the election, failed to generate a new wave of public support.

 

Kishida, who has been in office for only a month, has no notable political achievements under his belt. His political slogans of “promoting distribution” and “new capitalism” are not backed by any specific plan. Voters probably were uncertain as to how they should evaluate his leadership qualities.

 

Recent opinion polls have shown many Japanese want to see a departure from the political styles adopted by Abe and Suga.

 

But Kishida has been reluctant to take strong actions to tackle the bad legacies of the previous administrations, including political scandals concerning annual tax-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties hosted by Abe and two school operators linked directly or indirectly to Abe, Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.

 

His stance toward these problems must have affected the LDP’s performance in the election. Amari’s defeat in the single-seat district is a harsh voter verdict on a politician who has escaped responsibility to clear up the allegations against him concerning the issue of “politics and money.”

 

Amari has taken the inevitable action of tendering his resignation from the key party post to the prime minister.

 

On the other hand, the alliance of opposition parties that led to a one-on-one battle between opposition and ruling camp candidates in three quarters of the single-seat constituencies failed to produce expected results as its political effects were apparently limited.

 

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), the main opposition force, failed to retain its strength in the Lower House. CDP chief Yukio Edano’s ambition to pose a serious challenge to the powerful ruling camp was frustrated. Among the opposition parties, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), a conservative opposition group that refused to join the alliance, sharply expanded its strength.

 

The CDP needs to scrutinize the results in each electoral district to assess the wisdom and effectiveness of its cooperation with other opposition parties including the Japanese Communist Party during the months running up to the Upper House election next summer and make steady efforts to flesh out its policy platform to offer a realistic alternative to the LDP-Komeito government.

 

KISHIDA SHOULD PREPARE NATION FOR 6TH WAVE

 

Kishida is set to be elected afresh as prime minister in a soon-to-be-convened special Diet session and launch his second Cabinet.

 

The first order of business for the new administration is to make all-out efforts to prepare the nation for a possible sixth wave of COVID-19 cases that could occur in the coming winter. The Kishida administration has announced an outline of measures it will take, focused on securing enough hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

 

But it was a hastily prepared blueprint in time for the election. The administration needs to work out details including measures to secure the necessary manpower.

 

The number of new COVID-19 cases has declined sharply nationwide. This is likely to provoke a chorus of calls for reviving the Go To government subsidies campaigns to support the battered tourist and restaurant industries.

 

Kishida will face a delicate balancing act in his efforts to revitalize social and economic activities without causing a resurgence of infections. He must learn lessons from the mistakes made by his two predecessors and make responsible policy decisions based on advice from a wide range of experts while offering detailed explanations about them to the public.

 

Kishida also has a duty to give substance to his political slogans. Immediately before the official campaign period for the election started, he set up a new council to promote his “new capitalism” policy program.

 

But it is unclear whether the council will be able to propose effective plans to realize what he describes as “a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution.” To deliver on his ambitious promise, he must move beyond implementing short-term economic measures and provide a medium- to long-term vision for the nation’s post-COVID future.

 

DIET MUST RECOVER ITS FUNCTIONS FOR POLICY DEBATE

 

The newly elected 465 members of the Lower House have the heavy responsibility to restore the Diet’s core functions, which were seriously undermined by the Abe and Suga administrations.

 

 

The two previous administrations repeatedly took actions that demonstrated disrespect for the government’s responsibility to explain its policy decisions and actions and erode the Diet’s role as the watchdog of the administration.

 

They, for instance, refused to respond to opposition requests for an extraordinary Diet session based on a constitutional provision and to convene a session of the Budget Committee, the main arena for policy debate at the Diet. They also parried many key questions or gave only elusive answers.

 

They did not engage in any serious soul searching after top government officials’ remarks at the Diet turned out to be false. They allowed the falsifications and destruction of official documents that are crucial for debate. They ignored the past government positions on key issues and unilaterally changed the traditional government interpretations of the law.

 

The ruling camp also abused its dominance in the Diet to force controversial bills through the Diet, including a state secrets protection bill and new national security legislation.

 

The ruling coalition’s overwhelming majority, which faced no serious challenge from weak, fragmented opposition, led to political hubris and a lack of discipline and integrity within the government.

 

The outcome of the Oct. 31 general election, which narrowed the gap in strength between the ruling and opposition camps, should lead to a real shift from the arrogant and discretionary way the two previous administrations governed the nation.

 

Ruling party lawmakers were busy currying favor with the prime minister’s office and impotent to change politics from the inside. They should be ashamed of their performances during the past nine years and take the leadership in the efforts to revitalize the citadel of discourse.

 

If the administration remains unwilling to get to the bottom of the Moritomo Gakuen, Kake Educational Institution and cherry blossom-viewing party scandals, the Diet should tackle the task instead.

 

Opposition parties also have a vital responsibility to fulfill. In addition to checking the administration’s actions, they also must act to ensure that diverse views and opinions among the public will be reflected in policies through open policy debate.

 

–The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 1

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