Archaic ways make Diet sessions a lengthy ordeal for prime ministers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The National Diet Building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must have recognized that 2022 will be a turbulent year. Just five months before him, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he led, won the House of Councilors election, some experts said he had a strong political base and that his stable administration lasted at least three years. said it would continue.

But it has stumbled over a number of issues, including the state funeral of the assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP’s inappropriate relationship with religious groups, and whether to replace scandal-ridden cabinet ministers. His approval rating plummeted by as much as 30% of his.

Kishida has not lost credibility within the LDP and has no rivals challenging his position, but his cabinet will face a tougher situation next year. Because I have to.

The Diet has put a great deal of strain on successive prime ministers, sometimes overthrowing them. In general, approval rates during normal sessions have declined, in some cases as much as 20%.

One might wonder how this would be done in Japan’s parliamentary cabinet system, where the prime minister is the leader of the ruling party and has the support of a majority of parliamentarians. In fact, the Liberal Democratic Party and its ally Komeito hold about 60% of the total seats in both houses. Why should Mr Kishida worry about making it through the Diet?

One of the problems lies in the unique parliamentary procedure of the National Assembly. In contrast to most European governments, the Japanese government has little power to set a timetable or schedule for deliberating bills. Opposition parties are thus given an opportunity to prolong the debate and defeat the government. If the public opinion is opposed or if the prime minister is in a disadvantageous position, deliberations will be prolonged, making it extremely difficult for the ruling party to vote.

Ministers embroiled in scandals are inevitably summoned for severe interrogation and criticism. It often corners troubled cabinet ministers into making incoherent apologies, stirring up fear and frustration even within the ruling party. The administration is forced to decide whether to replace them. Most of the dismissals of ministers have taken place during parliamentary sessions, and in the last extraordinary session he had to be attended by three ministers.

All ministers, including the prime minister, are bound by lengthy deliberations on bills and budgets. Kishida attended committees and plenary sessions of both houses for more than 80 days this year. This is not uncommon.

Other world leaders attend parliaments and conferences in their own countries much less frequently than Japanese parliaments. According to a National Diet Library survey, the British Prime Minister attended about 40 days, the German Chancellor about 10 days, and the presidents of the United States and France one day each. At his G7 summit a few years ago, then-Prime Minister Abe won the sympathy of other leaders when he complained about spending too much time in the Diet.

Article 66 of the Constitution of Japan stipulates that the Cabinet is jointly and severally liable to the Diet. Of course, this article provides for the parliamentary principle, namely the power of the Diet to check and balance the government. Frankly, this parliamentary responsibility was a heavy burden, not only for ministers, but for the government as a whole. During budget deliberations, ministries and agencies also have to answer questions from opposition lawmakers until midnight. Civil servants have to put up with long hours, and young bureaucrats who feel it is a ridiculous waste of money may leave.

More than 75 years ago, the Imperial Diet, the predecessor of the current Diet, was not a legislative body, but a kind of arena for disputes between members of the House of Representatives and the government. It is not uncommon for the committees that deliberate controversial bills to be paralyzed by physical resistance from opposition camps. As he has done three times in the last 20 years, when houses are ruled by different parties, unnecessary conflict leads to a political quagmire where nothing is decided.

A poll conducted last month by the Yomiuri Shimbun found that the Diet ranked lowest at 25% when asked about trust in domestic institutions. It has been one of the least trusted organizations for over a decade. Nevertheless, the long-dominant LDP has refrained from amending the Diet’s outdated rules and practices because it is not easy to persuade reluctant opposition parties. I am afraid that I will be criticized for trying to force passage of a bill that I want to pass.

When Kishida took office last year, he vowed to promote a politics of trust and empathy. Both diets are completely lacking. In order to fulfill the promise, it is essential to work on the reform of the Diet, which has been neglected for many years. He knows the flaws in Japanese politics well enough to qualify for this job if he can survive the pressure from the opposition during the next session.

The next Political Pulse will appear on January 7th.

Takayuki Tanaka

Mr. Tanaka is the Senior Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer and General Affairs of The Yomiuri Shimbun. Former editor-in-chief.

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