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Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
Question-and-answer sessions have started in the Diet as Japan faces such serious problems as economic stagnation, deteriorating state finances and worries about the social welfare system's sustainability. But the mood of Diet is no closer to holding meaningful discussions. Opposition parties, especially the two main opposition parties — the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito — are simply in a confrontational mode.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan is calling on the opposition bloc to join suprapartisan consultations on the unified reform of the social welfare system and the tax system, which would include a consumption tax raise. In his questioning, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki said that dissolution of the Lower House and a snap election should come before starting such consultations.
In reference to the move by the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party of Japan to revise its election manifesto because of the general budget deficit, Komeito Secretary General Yoshihisa Inoue said if they change the manifesto, either Mr. Kan should dissolve the Lower House for a snap election or he should resign as prime minister.
That these parties are taking a confrontational stance is understandable to some extent. One cannot blame them if they suspect that Mr. Kan is trying to use the proposed consultations as a means of prolonging his political life. Since local elections are to be held in April, they cannot take a soft stance toward him.
But if both the ruling and opposition blocs cannot hold substantive discussions on concrete issues, people will be disappointed by the Diet's inability to address national problems and will likely deepen their distrust of politics. The fact that about one-third of university students graduating this spring cannot find jobs symbolizes the plight of Japan.
Mr. Kan hopes to work out a concrete proposal for the social welfare and tax reform in June on the basis of suprapartisan consultations. But the Diet session is scheduled to end that month. The government should present its own ideas as soon as possible to give people enough time to evaluate them.