Extraordinary Diet Session: Concerns Remain regarding Coordination between Government, Ruling Parties

An extraordinary Diet session has been convened. It is hoped that the government and the ruling and opposition parties will hold fruitful discussions to resolve a mountain of domestic and foreign policy issues.

Deliberations are set to focus on economic measures mainly aimed at tackling rising prices. Tax cuts also are expected to be discussed, following Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s instruction to policymaking senior officials of the ruling camp to consider reducing income tax.

The ruling and opposition parties are striving to formulate their own policy proposals, but it could prove problematic if they end up competing against each other based on pork-barrel measures. Rather, those involved should constructively discuss the appropriateness and effectiveness of their proposed programs and lead deliberations to devise necessary measures.

It is customary for prime ministers to deliver a policy speech on the first day of extraordinary Diet sessions. On this occasion, however, the prime minister’s speech has been postponed until the start of the following week. The change was triggered by opposition parties’ objections to the prime minister alone making a speech the day before two by-elections, one each in the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

Disagreements between the government and the ruling parties also arose regarding the start date for the current Diet session. As a result, the kickoff date was pushed back by several days.

Given that the simple scheduling of a Diet session has fallen into disarray, doubts have arisen over the proper handling of numerous other issues. The Prime Minister’s Office, the Diet and the ruling parties must communicate closely to ensure stable government.

The proper situation of Diet members and their secretaries is also expected to be a point of contention during the current Diet session.

Last month, it was revealed that state-paid secretaries of lower house members of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) were simultaneously serving as city or town assembly members. In response, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to prohibit state-paid secretaries from working concurrently as local assembly members.

Under the law on salaries for Diet members’ secretaries, state-paid secretaries are, in principle, prohibited from holding concurrent positions, but can do so with permission from the lawmaker for whom they work.

It is unreasonable to expect local assembly members to support lawmakers’ activities — such as by helping prepare questions for the Diet — while also working to resolve local issues and trying to live up to expectations from local residents. It must be said that an individual serving in two positions has taken each role lightly, and this is entirely inappropriate.

The law should be amended to prohibit state-paid secretaries from doubling as local assembly members.

Debate also has stalled over the monthly ¥1 million disbursed to lawmakers to cover survey, research, public relations and accommodation costs — previously known as document, correspondence, travel and accommodation expenses.

The opposition parties have called for the use of such public funds to be fully disclosed, with unused funds being returned to the state coffers, but the LDP has been cautious on the subject.

Political activities inevitably incur certain costs. However, it is vital to increase transparency such as by disclosing the use of funds and being fully accountable to the public. If politicians fail to strictly self-regulate, they are unlikely to gain public trust.

Bureaucrats are usually informed late in the day about lawmakers’ planned Diet questions, forcing them to work late into the night to prepare answers. It is hoped that this situation can be improved.

In June, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to work toward a speedier relaying of expected questions. Whether this plan can be implemented effectively remains to be seen.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 21, 2023)