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Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010


Don't shrink the Diet

At the instruction of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the Democratic Party of Japan created a team to discuss reducing the number of Diet seats with the opposition forces. Mr. Kan says that because the government will have to ask people to shoulder a heavier financial burden in the reconstruction of state finances, Diet members will also have to make sacrifices.

This is an illogical and dangerous argument. The number of Diet members in Japan relative to the number of voters is not large compared with other countries. For example, in Britain, whose population is about half the size of Japan's, the House of Commons has 650 seats, compared to the 480 seats in Japan's Lower House. Not only the DPJ but also the Liberal Democratic Party and Your Party are calling for a reduction in Diet seats. Komeito says that reduction must be combined with electoral system reform. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party are against downsizing the Diet.

The parties calling for seat reductions have forgotten that Diet members are representatives of the voters. They should try to explain how reducing the number of Diet members would strengthen democracy in Japan. They also forget the fact that in many situations Diet members have to confront bureaucracy, which is far larger than the legislature and has accumulated enormous amounts of information and knowledge. Reducing the number of Diet members would weaken their power relative to the bureaucracy, thus hampering their ability to identify problems and confront bureaucrats to solve those problems.

The DPJ's Upper House election manifesto calls for reducing the number of Lower House members elected through proportional representation by 80, and slashing the number of Upper House seats by about 40. At least it is clear that the DPJ's proposal for Lower House downsizing would lead to a suppression of minority opinions. Rather than shrink the Diet, lawmakers should strive to differentiate the roles and functions of the Lower and Upper Houses. At present the Upper House is often dubbed the "carbon copy" of the Lower House.

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