Advance Discussions on Emergency Situations

More than 75 years have passed since the enactment of the Constitution, and new challenges and changing circumstances have arisen that were not envisioned at that time. It is important for the ruling and opposition parties to delve deeper into discussions on what the supreme law should be like.

The Commission on the Constitution of the House of Representatives held its second free debate at the current Diet session. The commission met 16 times during last year’s ordinary Diet session and seven times during the extraordinary Diet session. It is noteworthy that the commission has been able to meet on a regular basis, and that constitutional debates have been vitalized.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has significantly changed the international situation. China has been building up its military capabilities, and the security environment surrounding Japan has deteriorated to an unprecedented degree. Numerous natural disasters have occurred in various parts of the world, causing serious damage.

There can be said to be rising momentum to review what the top law should be like in response to the changing times and circumstances. The fact that Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People are positive about amending the Constitution may also be encouraging active debate.

At a commission meeting, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party presented materials on issues to sort out for a state of emergency clause. The LDP proposed adding a provision to the Constitution that would make it possible to extend Diet members’ terms of office in the event that national elections cannot be held due to a large-scale disaster or other emergency.

The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami affected a large number of local governments, making it difficult for them to engage in election administration. As a result, many local elections had to be postponed.

If national elections were to become impossible to hold due to disasters after the dissolution of the lower house or the expiration of Diet members’ term of office, the Diet would become dysfunctional, which could hinder the passage of budgets and legislation. Although there is an article in the Constitution that states the Cabinet may convoke the House of Councillors for emergency sessions, it is reasonable to add a provision to the Constitution to extend the terms of office in order to prepare for unforeseen circumstances.

Ishin, the DPFP and other parties said they have begun discussions on drafting texts for a state of emergency clause.

If each party brings its own draft for discussion, the points of contention will become clearer, and it will be easier for the public to form an image of the contents of the amendment. It is hoped that the parties will continue to hold elaborate discussions at the commission and make efforts to finalize the commission’s proposal.

As depopulation continues to increase in rural areas, another major issue is how to reflect in national politics the will of the people in such regions.

At the request of the judiciary, the Diet has been working to correct the disparity in vote values, but the pursuit of the equality of voting values has reached its limits.

The LDP has been putting together a draft proposal to eliminate integrated constituencies combining two neighboring prefectures for the upper house elections, by establishing a provision allowing at least one person from each prefecture to be elected in upper house elections that are held every three years.

If the election system is to be fundamentally reformed, a review of the division of roles between the lower and upper houses is inevitable. It is advisable that the Commission on the Constitution of both chambers will cooperate in discussing this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 10, 2023)