Lower house panel on Constitution must meet often to deepen debate

The ruling and opposition parties have raised many issues concerning the Constitution, including how to respond to contingencies and what the Diet should do. The commission needs to invigorate discussions and delve further into these matters.

The House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution held its first free debate in about seven months. It was the first time since the inauguration of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The fact that the ruling and opposition parties have come together to hold the meeting during the current Diet session is a welcome move.

In the last lower house election, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, both of which have a positive attitude toward constitutional revision, increased their seats in the Diet. This may indicate the public’s desire for the legislature to engage in vigorous debate on the Constitution.

In his policy speech, the prime minister said, “Members of the Diet have the responsibility to earnestly address the matter of how the Constitution should be.” Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, has made it clear that he is open to debate, saying, “We take the stance of not merely protecting the Constitution, but discussing it.”

It is important for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss the Constitution, which is the foundation of the nation, from a broad perspective. Each party must cooperate and create an environment that will allow calm debate to continue.

At the commission meeting, Yoshitaka Shindo of the Liberal Democratic Party called for using the party’s four-point revision proposal, including clearly stipulating the legal grounds for the Self-Defense Forces, as a basis for discussion. In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Shindo also said, “It is useful to discuss the national framework for how to respond to contingencies.”

DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki stressed, “The danger lies in a situation where constitutional rights are restricted by vague rules in the absence of a state of emergency clause.”

It has been argued that basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, such as freedom of movement and business, were readily restricted amid the multiple declarations of a state of emergency since last year.

In the event of contingency, such as a large-scale disaster or an infectious disease pandemic, how will the Diet sustain its functions of authorizing budgets and creating laws? It is essential to establish rules for crisis preparedness, including whether the term of office of Diet members can be extended.

Times have changed, and there are many new issues that the current Constitution, enacted immediately after the end of World War II, did not envision, such as dealing with a digital society.

To correct the vote-value disparities stemming from the increasing concentration of the population in urban areas, the number of Diet seats representing urban areas is increasing, while the number of seats in regional areas is decreasing. How can the will of the people in local areas be reflected in national politics? This should be examined from the perspective of the Constitution, including a review of the division of roles between the two houses of the Diet.

Regarding the operation of the commission, the LDP proposed meeting regularly every week, on a day that the lower house is in session, and Komeito, Ishin and the DPFP have expressed their support.

It is a matter of course for the Diet to hold commission meetings on a stable basis. It is recommended that the parties reaffirm the rule that they will examine constitutional issues even in times of intense power struggle.

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