An extraordinary session of the Japanese Diet began on Oct. 3, about 1 1/2 months after opposition parties demanded the convening of the assembly. The conducting of the session came way too late.
The Diet faces a plethora of issues, from the Unification Church scandal involving what is formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the controversy over former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral, to measures against rising prices and the yen’s depreciation. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration cannot escape criticism that it is making light of the legislature.
Five parties and one parliamentary group in the opposition camp jointly submitted a bill to revise the National Diet law to mandate the Cabinet to convene an extraordinary Diet session within 20 days after a request was filed based on the Constitution of Japan. The bill was spearheaded by the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), which have agreed to forge an alliance to counter the ruling camp in this Diet session.
The issue of whether to set a deadline for convening an extraordinary Diet session has long been the subject of controversy.
Article 53 of the Constitution stipulates that when a quarter or more of the total members of either chamber of the Diet makes the demand to convoke extraordinary Diet sessions, the Cabinet must come to a decision on holding such an assembly. However, the supreme law does not set a deadline for convening extraordinary sessions, resulting in those demands often being shelved.
When opposition parties called for the convening of an extraordinary Diet session in 2017 to get to the bottom of favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, then Prime Minister Abe’s administration refused to comply with the request. The session was eventually held 98 days later, but no deliberations were held as Abe dissolved the House of Representatives at the outset of the meeting.
Three lawsuits had since been filed over the Abe Cabinet’s move, with the plaintiffs arguing that it ran counter to the Constitution. The rulings handed down by the Naha District Court and the Okayama District Court pointed out that the Cabinet has a legal obligation to convene an extraordinary Diet session within a reasonable period of time, though the courts stopped short of determining whether the Cabinet’s move was constitutional or not.
The spirit of Article 53 is to pave the way for minority parties in the Diet to call for the convening of an extraordinary Diet session and reflect their opinions in national politics. If the question of when to convoke the session is left to the Cabinet’s discretion, it could run contrary to the article’s purpose. It would also undermine the role of opposition parties to monitor the administration.
Even the ruling Liberal Democratic Party clearly stated in its 2012 draft revision to the Constitution that “an extraordinary Diet session shall be convened within 20 days after a demand was made” in relation to Article 53, when the party was in the opposition.
It is, however, unrealistic to revise the Constitution just to add the deadline for convoking extraordinary Diet sessions.
Essentially, the Cabinet ought to understand the spirit of the Constitution and swiftly comply with requests to convene extraordinary Diet sessions. If the Cabinet fails to do so, it is urged that discussion be held on setting rules under the Diet law. The legislature is hoped to deepen deliberations on the issue, taking advantage of the submission of the bill to revise the Diet law.