The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which won the July 10 House of Councillors election in Japan by a landslide, has a grave responsibility to take back the primary role of the Diet, also called “the citadel of discourse.”
The latest upper house race was an election where the power of democracy was challenged after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated toward the end of the campaign period. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who also heads the LDP told a news conference on July 11, “Many members of the public must have felt uneasy. But we managed to complete an election, which is the building block of democracy.”
In a national election, voters give mandate to those who would represent the public. For the elected lawmakers in the latest race, their job to protect democracy has only just begun.
During the administrations of Abe and his successor Yoshihide Suga, it stood out how they used the mere number of seats the ruling coalition held to disrespect the Diet. The parliament, meanwhile, failed to execute its function of checks over favoritism scandals involving Moritomo and Kake school operators and the controversial tax-funded cherry blossom-viewing parties, unable to get to the bottom of the issues.
Reflecting on these, Prime Minister Kishida supposedly have brought forth his “ability to listen.” However, while he maintains polite mannerisms in his Diet responses and other speeches, his words have no substance, and he’s been unable to create a spark in discussions.
During the campaign period of the upper house race, a Cabinet member uttered a comment which was far from this new “ability to listen” when economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa said, “We won’t listen to anything the opposition parties have to say.” His remarks go against the spirit of democracy where minority opinions are respected.
The distance between politics and regular people remains far and wide. The voter turnout for single-seat constituencies in the latest upper house race was 52.05%. Though higher than the previous upper house election in 2019, it still was the fourth lowest recorded.
If the LDP presumptuously takes the landslide victory for granted, the crisis hanging over Japan’s democracy will only deepen. The ruling party should directly face the stagnant Diet and lead a turnaround. The party must lend an ear to diverse opinions and exhaust all consensus-building efforts. The LDP may lead the ruling coalition, but it needs to challenge the government from time to time.
We must also not forget that the upper house is “the chamber of deep thought.” Unlike the House of Representatives that can be resolved any day for a snap election, the same faces will remain at the upper house for three years. House of Councillors members must take time to discuss long-term issues including Japan’s shrinking population in a calm manner.
It’s also crucial for the upper house to thoroughly exercise its supervisory functions over administrative bodies. It’s expected to carefully examine the government’s COVID-19 measures and how the massive funds on reserve have been used, which can lead to wasteful spending.
To overcome the crisis in Japan’s democracy, the Diet must be revived to restore the people’s faith in politics.