Diet commissions must finish debate on bill to revise referendum law

It will soon be three years since a bill to revise the National Referendum Law, which stipulates the procedures for revising the Constitution, was submitted to the Diet. The ruling and opposition parties should come to an agreement to settle the issue as soon as possible.

The Commission on the Constitution of the House of Representatives has met for the first time in the current Diet session. The focus of the open debate among the parties was how to handle the proposed revisions to the referendum law.

The main pillars of the revisions are to allow the establishment of “common polling stations” at train stations and commercial facilities for votes to be cast outside designated voting districts, as well as to flexibly implement early voting for reasons such as inclement weather.

Such measures have already been applied to national and local elections, and it is natural that they should be reflected in the referendum law.

The Liberal Democratic Party proposed an early vote on the bill, saying that debate has been completed, but the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan opposed the motion, arguing that it was premature to hold a vote.

The secretaries general of both the LDP and the CDPJ agreed last December to “reach some kind of conclusion” on the revision bill during the current Diet session.

The CDPJ’s decision to scrap the agreement between the two parties is hard to understand. Once the bill is voted on, debate on the Constitution will accelerate in earnest. It is reasonable that the CDPJ will be criticized for stalling to prevent that from happening.

The CDPJ argues that restrictions on TV and radio advertising during the referendum campaign period are insufficient. It argues that if well-financed political parties and organizations air a great many ads, there will be a lack of fairness regarding the amount of information.

However, such arguments were made when the law was first established. To encourage the active expression of opinions, campaigning for the referendum can be done freely, in principle, and advertising is banned only in the last 14 days before the vote, from the standpoint of minimizing restrictions.

The Democratic Party for the People takes the stance that the revision bill should be enacted as soon as possible, and then the restrictions on advertising should be discussed again. This can be said to be an appropriate decision in order to not leave the bill on the shelf.

Another point of discussion in the open debate was the regulation of online advertising. During the U.S. presidential election last year, fake news was rampant on social media and elsewhere online. The LDP has expressed its intention to order the issues in the future. It is important for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the issue carefully.

At their base, the ruling and opposition camps share the principle of aiming for conducting smooth discussions at the constitutional commissions of both houses. It is customary for the ruling party to respect the opinions of the opposition parties and for the opposition parties to keep political maneuvering out of the deliberations.

However, the CDPJ and other parties have conspicuously refused to hold meetings of the commissions, citing scandals in the administration.

The onus is on each party to constructively discusses the state of the nation’s supreme law and formulates a draft for revision. The commissions need to fulfill this essential role.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 19, 2021.