Hatoyama should agree to debate with Tanigaki
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has long been insisting that a Diet session should be a stage for debates among lawmakers. However, the party has recently been contradicting its policy line by refusing to hold a debate between party leaders at the Diet.
The first debate between Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who also is president of the DPJ, and Liberal Democratic Party President Sadakazu Tanigaki was initially scheduled for Wednesday. But the DPJ had been reluctant to hold the question time since last week, and the debate was eventually called off.
The parties had agreed to hold a debate of party leaders every Wednesday. This means Nov. 25 would be the last opportunity for the leaders to cross verbal swords if the current Diet session is not extended.
The DPJ insists question time was not held because the party wanted to give priority to deliberations on outstanding bills. 民主党は、法案審議を優先するためとしている。
However, this excuse seems rather flimsy, considering a debate between party leaders would take only 45 minutes from 3 p.m. each Wednesday.
The DPJ could do several things to get question time up and running, such as setting aside time by taking a break from deliberations on the bills with the cooperation of the LDP--the party chomping at the bit to hold the debate.
Most baffling of all, if giving priority to Diet deliberations was the DPJ's real motive for dodging question time this week, holding the debate toward the end of the Diet session will only become more difficult. The prospect of the leaders facing off on Nov. 25 looks ever more unlikely. Is the Hatoyama administration going to postpone the first verbal joust between party leaders until next year's ordinary Diet session?
The agreement among the parties states that all cabinet ministers are supposed to sit with the prime minister during question time. The DPJ has since griped that having every minister available at debate time is very difficult. However, the LDP has said it does not mind if every minister is not present.
We think both reasons given by the DPJ for postponing question time lack conviction. This will only give more ammunition to critics in the LDP who suspect the DPJ refuses to hold the debate because it does not want Hatoyama's falsified political donations scandal to be pursued at the Diet.
Even if the party is averse to such criticism, the prime minister should agree to take part in the debate without ducking for cover.
Ozawa has role to play
We think DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, who is responsible for Diet affairs, should comply with the LDP demand to hold the debate. Ozawa, who is trying to submit a bill on Diet reforms to the current Diet session, himself said a Diet session should be an arena for debates among politicians.
By this logic, surely a debate among party leaders is the prime example of politicians locking horns.
A working group of the National Council for Building a New Japan (21st Century Rincho), a nongovernmental think tank, made a proposal to hold a debate between party leaders every week after Ozawa had sought its advice. This would not require any new legislation and could be realized immediately--if the DPJ decided to give it the green light.
It is also important to simplify the debate arrangements with some remedial measures, such as cutting the length of the debate and reviewing the agreement that requires every cabinet minister to attend.
Intensive, detailed discussions are needed on a raft of political issues, including financial sources for new policy measures such as child-rearing allowances, and the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture, on which Hatoyama's remarks have often been inconsistent. We also want to hear exhaustive explanations on the falsified political donations directly from the mouth of the prime minister himself.
It is obvious the DPJ is obstructing these debates. The party should agree to hold question time on Nov. 25--unless it fancies being accused of trying to sweep its leader's donations scandal under the carpet or of reducing its Diet reform pledge to an empty slogan.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 20, 2009)