Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"Divided Diet" Stalemated for Lack of Compromising Skills
SERI Hirofumi  / Journalist

August 8, 2008
The first ordinary Diet session for the Fukuda government came to a close on June 21. The ruling parties and the opposition forces clashed head-on on almost all issues; they could not reach a compromise or come up with an alternative solution.

The cause of this condition can be traced back to the so-called "contorted Diet" produced as a result of the 2007 Upper House elections, but this naming itself contributed to further deepen the confusion. This name only captures the superficial image of the current political situation, without appropriately expressing the reality of the power balance, so, in fact, this name actually helped to widen the misconception about the political situation.

Some scholars call the political situation in which the two houses are dominated by different parties a "Divided Government." In political science, the term "government" is considered to include not only the administration but also the legislature. But in Japan, "government" usually denotes the administration, especially the cabinet which controls the administration. Considered in the light of our system of the separation of the three branches of government, the administrative, legislative and judicial, the long-continuing post-war rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) means the LDP controlled two of the three branches, the administrative and legislative, and in the legislature, controlled both houses of the Diet.

As a result of the 2007 Upper House elections, half of the legislative power, the control of the Upper House, fell into the hands of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). However, the administrative power, the cabinet, is still in the hands of the LDP and its partner the Komeito Party. The other half of the legislative power, the Lower House, is also under the control of the ruling coalition, so the current coalition is in control of one and a half out of three, in other words, half of the three branches of government.

In France, in the past, under both the Socialist Mitterand government and the Chirac government representing the Rally for the Republic (RPR), there emerged a cohabitation government of conservatives and progressives, in which the Socialist Party and the RPR shared power by one taking the post of President and the other the post of Prime Minister. The President did not belong to the majority party of parliament, so as a way of managing the parliament, the Prime Minister was chosen from the majority party. Roughly speaking, the President was responsible for foreign affairs, and the Prime Minister and the parliament were responsible for domestic matters.

In Japan, the power-sharing occurs within the legislature, so a simple coexistence or cohabitation is not possible. As both houses of the Diet are given virtually the same roles under the constitution, responsibility cannot be shared as in the case of France described above.

As a result, in the Diet session that just closed, the ruling coalition could not sail their policies through the Diet as they had done in the past when they ruled both houses. At the same time, the opposition, with only half of the legislature under its control, was far from being able to realize its policies. As the opposition DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa made it his priority to dissolve the Lower House and force a general election rather than realize any policies, the gap between the ruling parties and the opposition forces widened even more than the actual difference in their policies.

Once it was decided to share the legislative power between the ruling parties and the opposition, one controlling the Upper House and the other the Lower House, both sides should have been aware of their joint responsibility as far as legislature was concerned. In October 2007, in his first policy speech after assuming his post, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was right when he said, "I would like to engage in sincere consultations with opposition parties on important policy issues in conducting the affairs of state." In a divided Diet, the only option available was to hold thorough consultations.

This, however, did not happen: the ruling parties took a strong line by wielding their "right to put a bill to a vote a second time and pass it with a two-thirds majority." In the road-related legislations and the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of Japan, this strategy worked against the ruling coalition, who suffered a severe setback. At the same time, the DPJ was also responsible for eviscerating Diet deliberations by refusing or postponing the deliberations. In some cases, when some DPJ members, acting as a responsible opposition, asked the ruling coalition to amend some bills in an effort to come up with a better compromise, they were criticized from within their own party.

No productive Diet debate is possible in such a climate. In Japanese politics, compromise is not highly valued. Not only is it underrated, it is even a target of criticism. Unless such perception is fundamentally changed, it is not possible to govern effectively in a "divided Diet" where the ruling parties and the opposition forces have to share legislative power. Both sides have to work on improving their compromising skills. That is also the path towards a mature democracy in Japan.

The writer is the former Chief Editorial Writer of Kyodo Press.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

「ねじれ国会」混迷の原因 ―よき妥協の技術が必要だったが―
井芹浩文 / ジャーナリスト

2008年 8月 8日


一部の学者は、衆院と参院で多数派が異なる政治状況を「分割政府」Divided Governmentと表現する。政治学的には、「政府」は行政府だけでなく、立法府も含まれと考える。しかし日本では「政府」は行政府、特にそれを統括する内閣のことを指すことが多い。わが国の三権分立体制に沿って考えると、戦後長く続いた自民党政権は、三権のうち司法府を除いて立法府と行政府の二権を抑え、立法府を構成する衆参両院を2つとも支配してきた。








(筆者は 共同通信 前論説委員長。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > "Divided Diet" Stalemated for Lack of Compromising Skills