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Friday, Aug. 31, 2012
Diet business at an impasse
Diet business has reached paralysis as the opposition forces on Wednesday passed a censure motion against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Following passage of the motion, the opposition forces plan to boycott all the deliberations in both houses of the Diet on bills submitted by the government.
The last day of the current Diet session, Sept. 8, is likely to come without enactment of two important bills — one to rectify the imbalance in the value of a vote between urban areas and depopulated rural areas in the Lower House election and the other to float bonds worth ¥38 trillion accounting for about 42 percent of the fiscal 2012 budget. This parliamentary deadlock will only deepen people's distrust of politics.
Mr. Noda and his ruling Democratic Party of Japan seem to be primarily responsible for causing the current impasse. Obviously their Diet policy related to the two bills was solely based on the idea of promoting partisan interests. At the same time, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party cannot escape criticism, as it opposed the bond flotation bill apparently in an attempt to prod Mr. Noda to dissolve the Lower House soon.
The consequences will be grave. The Supreme Court may nullify the results of a next Lower House Election because of the failure to rectify the vote-value disparity and nearly half of the fiscal 2012 budget may not be implemented.
The Supreme Court in March 2011 ruled that the results of the 2009 Lower House election are "in the state of being unconstitutional" due to the vote-value disparity although it stopped short of declaring the election results null and void.
If some 42 percent of the budget is not implemented, it will seriously affect people's lives. Although the DPJ faced the LDP's opposition to the bond issuance bill, Mr. Noda and the DPJ seem to have forgotten that enacting and fully implement a budget is a very important and urgent job for the government.
The DPJ rammed the vote-value rectification bill and the bond issuance bill through the Lower House on Tuesday and sent them to the Upper House without coordinating with the opposition forces or persuading them to cooperate.
For the sake of rectifying the vote-value disparity, the LDP had submitted a bill to simply reduce the number of Lower House seats from single-seat constituencies by five through elimination of one single-seat constituency in five prefectures.
But the DPJ submitted a different bill, which features not only reduction of the number of the seats from single-seat constituencies by five but also reduction of 40 seats from proportional representation and a scheme to give some advantage to small parties in proportional representation.
To quickly rectify the vote-value disparity, the LDP bill is the most practical. If it becomes a law, it is easy to newly demarcate electoral districts in time for a Lower House election that may come at any time as a result of dissolution of the Lower House by the prime minister. Thus a Supreme Court ruling nullifying the election results can be avoided. It is understandable that the LDP opposed the complicated DPJ bill.
Other opposition parties are also opposed to the DPJ bill mainly because it reduces the number of seats from proportional representation.
It is easy to understand that smaller opposition parties, which cannot expect to win many seats in single-seat constituencies but can expect to get some seats in proportional representation, oppose the DPJ bill. But the DPJ held deliberation on the bill without the participation of the opposition parties.
The DPJ also forced the bill to issue the bonds through a committee session which was not attended by LDP members before sending it to a plenary session.
Mr. Noda and the DPJ had once established cooperative relationship with the LDP and Komeito. By promising to the LDP and Komeito that he will dissolve the Lower House in the near future, Mr. Noda obtained the two parties' cooperation to enact the bill to raise the consumption tax rate from the current 5 percent to 8 percent from April 2014 and to 10 percent from October 2015.
Despite this, Mr. Noda's DPJ forced the two bills through the Lower House. It railroaded the bills while clearly knowing that there is no prospect that they will be enacted in the Upper House because the chamber is controlled by the opposition parties.
Mr. Noda and DPJ leaders appear to be calculating the situation in a cynical manner. If the two bills are not enacted in the Upper House, they can shift the responsibility for not enacting them to the LDP, Komeito and other opposition parties.
Although Mr. Noda promised to LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki and Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi to dissolve the Lower House in the near future, he wants to delay dissolving the chamber as long as possible because it is clear that the DPJ will lose a large number of seats if a Lower House election is held following the dissolution.
Mr. Noda could use the excuse that because the Upper House failed to enact a bill to rectify vote-value disparity, he could not dissolve the Lower House.
It appears that Mr. Noda is more interested in putting off dissolution of the Lower House than in implementing the fiscal 2012 budget in full. If he was serious about budget implementation, he would have done more to get the cooperation of the LDP.
Although the opposition forces should be criticized for refusing most Diet deliberations after passing the censure motion against Mr. Noda, his responsibility as the national leader and the responsibility of other DPJ leaders are heavier. If they do nothing to break this impasse, they would be further undermining their own political standing.