The Yomiuri Shimbun (Oct. 31, 2012)
After turning Noda away, can upper house justify existence?
For the first time in the postwar era, a prime minister has not made a policy speech in the House of Councillors. This leaves an indelible stain on the history of constitutional government.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda delivered his policy speech only in the House of the Representatives plenary session on the opening day of an extraordinary Diet session Monday. He could not do so in the upper house because the opposition parties controlling the chamber refused to comply with a request to hold a plenary session.
Making a policy speech during a plenary session provides an important opportunity for a prime minister to present basic policies on international and domestic issues. In response to the speech, representatives from the ruling and opposition parties interpellate the government as full-scale parliamentary debate is launched. This procedure has been customarily observed in the Diet.
The upper house caucuses of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, two major opposition parties, insist they refused to have Noda appear in the upper house plenary session because a censure motion against him had been approved in the same chamber during the previous ordinary session of the Diet.
“It was the desire of the upper house caususes not to invite him to make a policy speech,” they said. “This does not mean we refuse to enter deliberations.” Such sophistry is inexcusable.
Upper house censure motions against former Prime Ministers Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso were approved and they stepped down as a result. But they did so before the next Diet session convened. So Noda is the first prime minister to enter a Diet session after a censure motion had been approved.
The opposition camp must discontinue its pernicious tactics of refusing to enter Diet deliberations following approval of the censure motion and bring to an end its fruitless struggle with the ruling parties.
In the first place, a censure motion in the upper house is not legally binding, unlike a no-confidence motion against the cabinet in the lower house. This is because a prime minister is not permitted to take any counteraction in the upper house, while a no-confidence motion in the lower house can lead to dissolution of that chamber. It also runs counter to the constitutional principle that gives the lower house precedence over the upper chamber.
It is natural for the upper house not to be given the means to make a prime minister resign because members of that house serve six-year terms.
LDP’s move baffling
The LDP’s behavior on the matter is incomprehensible.
As a reason for submitting the censure motion in question, the opposition parties cited the bill to increase the consumption tax rate as “betraying the will of the people.” But the LDP, based on an agreement with the Democratic Party of Japan and Komeito, voted for the bill in the Diet. It is appalling that the LDP is brandishing the censure motion approved in the previous Diet session as a political tool in the current extraordinary session to attack the government.
Under the divided Diet, the opposition-controlled upper house has abused its powers repeatedly, throwing Diet business into chaos. It is lamentable for the LDP and Komeito to apparently take revenge on the DPJ-led government for the hardships they suffered in the upper house when they formed a coalition government.
An upper house Budget Committee session is scheduled to be held. This is because the opposition parties want to question the government on scandals involving Cabinet ministers. They plan to ask Noda to attend the session to take him to task for appointing Keishu Tanaka, who resigned as justice minister before the extraordinary Diet session convened.
If they do this, how will the LDP and Komeito explain their inconsistency between refusing to allow the prime minister to deliver a policy speech in the upper house and holding a Budget Committee session with Noda in attendance?
Moreover, the LDP and Komeito upper house caucuses said they would refuse in principle to enter deliberations on government-proposed bills in other upper house committees. We wonder why the LDP is adopting such an opportunistic and inconsistent policy toward Diet business while it is trying to regain power?
If the upper chamber becomes a political football, it will inevitably inflame the smoldering argument under the divided Diet that the upper house is unnecessary.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 30, 2012)