Chaos in Diet: Parties Must Not Risk Degrading National Forum for Debate

The chaos in the Diet is too much to tolerate. The two-day session of the House of Representatives’ Deliberative Council on Political Ethics was finally held, but it ended with a repetition of questions and answers with little substance.

Discussions between the ruling and opposition parties regarding a budget for fiscal 2024 also fell into disarray, forcing the ruling camp to end up using sheer numerical strength to push through the budget. This has revealed poor political management on the part of the government and ruling parties.

The ethics panel convened Friday following the previous day’s session over alleged violations of the Political Funds Control Law involving the Liberal Democratic Party’s factions. Four former executives of the faction once led by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno and former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who were previously secretaries general of the faction — appeared before the panel.

All four executives denied their involvement in any of the faction’s accounting. They also made statements such as that they were not aware of when or who started the faction’s practice of kicking back funds to faction members.

Many people may have felt that such “not aware of ” remarks by the former faction executives, who had been in a position to lead the management of the faction, were unnatural.

The LDP side, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, only repeated explanations without substance during the panel sessions. Such an attitude may have only increased public distrust rather than restoring trust.

Meanwhile, the ruling and opposition parties repeated their fruitless haggling over the passage of the fiscal 2024 budget in the lower house.

The ruling camp has secured ample time to deliberate on the budget and has already held a hearing, which is a prerequisite for a vote. It can be said that the proposal to the opposition camp to hold a vote at a plenary session of the lower house is reasonable.

However, the opposition camp opposed this move and attempted to prolong the deliberations by taking actions such as submitting a motion to dismiss the chair of the lower house Budget Committee. Such old-fashioned tactics for Diet affairs are unlikely to win the public’s understanding.

The LDP also bears heavy responsibility for causing confusion in the Diet. It took time to confirm the views of its members appearing before the ethics panel on whether to open the sessions to the public.

While no progress was being made on coordination either within the LDP or between the ruling and opposition parties, the prime minister abruptly announced that he would appear before the panel. That prompted criticism from the opposition side that the panel sessions would be used to draw the curtain on the funds scandal.

Kishida’s decision to appear before the panel himself may have been an attempt to break the deadlock, but the LDP remained on the sidelines, exposing its dysfunctional state.

With the international situation changing rapidly, the security environment surrounding Japan has become increasingly severe. Strengthening Japan’s diplomatic and defense capabilities is a challenge to be undertaken urgently.

Japan must also speed up efforts to tackle issues such as its declining population and low birth rate. Political stagnation is unacceptable.

The prime minister and the ruling and opposition parties should be aware of how serious the issues facing Japan are. The authority of the national forum for debate must not be degraded.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 2, 2024)