Prime minister's gutsy decision deserves credit
Out of the blue, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced he will dissolve the House of Representatives. Amid simmering opposition to an early dissolution within his Democratic Party of Japan, Noda has put everything on the line in a bid to bring an end to the nation's political gridlock.
During a Diet debate with Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Noda said he would dissolve the lower house Friday if the opposition promises to pass a bill to reduce the number of lower house seats during next year's ordinary Diet session.
Abe initially gave no clear response to Noda's offer. But after the debate and a meeting with senior LDP figures, Abe said, "We'll do our best to conclude the issue in the ordinary Diet session." This paved the way for the lower house to be dissolved Friday.
The lower house election is now set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4.
Prevent further distrust
The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has been languishing for months, so the DPJ could suffer a crushing defeat in the election. However, we applaud the prime minister's sensible and weighty decision to dissolve the chamber for a general election.
In August, Noda expressed his intention to dissolve the lower house "sometime soon." If he had let the year end without settling the dissolution issue, questions would have been raised over the credibility of his remarks. That could have fueled public distrust with politics.
The prime minister apparently wanted to initiate the dissolution on his own terms, rather than having his hand forced. Noda also probably felt it was to his advantage to hold the election before Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other smaller parties can unite and form a third major political force.
Noda's decision drew howls of protest from DPJ members who oppose the dissolution and currently dominate the party. They fear the dissolution could lead to a political vacuum.
However, if Noda puts off tackling key policy issues and unnecessarily attempts to cling to power at a time when his administration is standing on shaky ground, the nation would end up confronting an even more serious political vacuum in both domestic and foreign affairs.
Some DPJ members who oppose Noda's decision are openly preparing to leave the party. Dissolving the lower house is a prerogative given to a prime minister. If DPJ members cannot accept their leader's decision, they have no choice but to walk away.
Among people who assumed that the lower house would be dissolved within the year, concern grew as time passed that stalling on the dissolution would cause delays in formulating next fiscal year's budget and its enactment.
From the standpoint of staving off any negative impact on the economy that would inevitably arise if the budget were delayed, we consider Noda's setting the dissolution for Nov. 16--the earliest possible date--as reasonable.
A new administration is certain to be launched by the end of this year. We want it to formulate the budget for the next fiscal year and deal with pressing issues, such as measures to shore up the nation's economy and revamp its diplomacy.
Irrespective of whether it was acceptable for Noda to push Abe to accept conditions for the dissolution during their debate--like forcing him to step on a cherished picture in a "fumie" allegiance test from long ago--we support the prime minister's exercise of his right to dissolve the chamber without flinching, even while his own party is torn over the issue.
Trust among 3 parties crucial
The Diet likely will remain divided even after the upcoming election. Accordingly, it will be very significant if the DPJ, the LDP and the other main opposition party, New Komeito, can maintain a relationship of trust to some extent and build a cooperative framework.
Although there is not much time before the lower house is broken up, the ruling and opposition camps should work together to tidy up some urgent issues.
The three parties have agreed to pass Friday a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-covering bonds. To avoid the depletion of state coffers, the parties must make sure the bill passes before the lower house is dissolved.
Another crucial task is narrowing the disparity in the value of votes between the House of Representatives' most- and least-populated districts, thus putting an end to the electoral system's "state of unconstitutionality."
The DPJ should be blamed for not fulfilling its responsibility to seriously address the issue just because it wanted to postpone the dissolution.
The party still insists on handling two issues--reducing single-seat constituencies by five and cutting the number of seats in the proportional representation system--as a set.
This posturing appears to be a DPJ attempt to show its resolve to cut the number of lower house seats--a stance that will go down well with voters because it shows Diet members are willing to sacrifice themselves to save money before the consumption tax rate is increased. However, there is not enough time for the Diet to reach a consensus on this issue before the dissolution.
To rectify the electoral system's unconstitutional state, the lower house should first pass a bill to reduce single-seat constituencies by five, and then rezone constituencies before holding a general election under the new system. This whole process, however, would take several months.
A more realistic option would be for the lower house to pass the bill before its dissolution and cut the number of seats in the proportional representation bloc and make other reforms during next year's ordinary Diet session. This is the minimum responsibility it should fulfill.
If a general election was held without passing the electoral reform bill, judicial authorities might rule the election was unconstitutional and therefore invalid. Lawmakers must ensure this does not happen.
TPP, N-power should be debated
The upcoming election will be a public evaluation of the DPJ's three-plus years in power. Another intriguing element will be whether the political system dominated by the DPJ and the LDP remains entrenched--even though they have become entangled in indecisive politics under the divided Diet--or an emerging third force will gain enough seats to seriously challenge this order.
On the policy front, Noda will propose Japan participate in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multinational free trade framework, aiming to make the TPP a major campaign issue. The LDP and other parties should not leave any doubt about their positions on this issue.
We urge all parties to make campaign pledges that clarify their stances on the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, nuclear power and energy policies, as well as diplomatic and security policies.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 15, 2012)