Constitution panel should be used as forum to deepen debate on the Diet

It is important to actively discuss issues related to the Constitution and sort out points of contention and the direction of revision. It is hoped that the Diet will fulfill its responsibility by continuing constructive discussions.

Discussions between the ruling and opposition parties are gaining momentum in the House of Representatives’ Commission on the Constitution. The current Diet session has already held two rounds of debate.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan initially took a reluctant position toward holding the discussions, saying priority should be given to budget deliberations. However, the ruling parties, as well as Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, both of which are positive about constitutional debate, strongly demanded that the discussions be held, so it seems the CDPJ had no other choice.

The commission involves mainly discussions between lawmakers and therefore it can be convened in parallel with budget deliberations in which Cabinet ministers and others answer questions. To deepen constitutional debate, it is only natural to proactively set up a forum for discussions by separating it from deliberations on the budget and bills.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, legislation to deal with emergencies has become an even more important political issue than before.

The Liberal Democratic Party proposed the creation of a state of emergency clause in a 2018 draft constitutional amendment, but the clause was limited to large-scale disasters at the time.

Another point of contention will likely be whether to include in the scope of emergencies epidemics, armed attacks and large-scale terrorism, among other scenarios.

The LDP draft included a provision to strengthen the Cabinet’s authority in the event of an emergency, but it is unclear to what extent it allows restrictions on private rights. The ruling and opposition parties must delve into these issues through repeated discussions.

In the commission, another focus of attention is whether to allow online deliberations. How to maintain the Diet’s functions in the event of an emergency is an issue that concerns the Constitution.

The Constitution stipulates that the attendance of one-third or more of all lawmakers is a prerequisite for a plenary session of both chambers of the Diet to be convened.

The CDPJ and DPP among other parties have said that it is possible to hold online deliberations by revising the interpretation of “attendance” without amending the Constitution.

While asserting that the issue should be addressed through constitutional amendment, the LDP indicated that it would consider the proposal, saying there is a possibility that a situation in which the quorum is not met could occur.

It would be significant if the commission can come up with a unified view on how to interpret the Constitution.

There are many practical hurdles to realizing online questioning and voting, such as improving the communications environment and procedures. The ruling and opposition parties should work together to carefully design a system.

There are many other issues to be discussed, such as the division of roles between the lower house and House of Councillors and the disparity in the value of votes. It is hoped that each party will use the commission as a forum to sincerely discuss the state of the Diet and the electoral system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 24, 2022.