Perhaps the new Democratic Party (DP) leader Renho's objective was to narrow down her speaking points to the ones she is well-versed in, but her first head-to-head battle with ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a House of Councillors plenary session since she took over the DP presidency was an unusual one.
Strikingly, Renho made no mention of diplomacy and national security or the Constitution, and instead limited her questions to Abe to those on the economy and social security, urging a shift from what she characterized as a failing "Abenomics" policy mix.
She argued that the Bank of Japan's fiscal policy had run into a brick wall, and that no matter how many times the Abe administration changed its favored slogans -- regional revitalization, a society in which women can shine, the promotion of the dynamic engagement of all citizens, and investment in the future -- Abe's economic policies have not resulted in an improved economy. She also accused the supplementary draft budget of still being heavily dependent on public works projects. These are all things that the Mainichi Shimbun has pointed out in the past.
Renho's push for a country in which "one is not limited by one's gender or origins," and "recognizes diversity and makes palpable to all people the type of wealth that cannot be measured in economic indices" brought Renho's colors to the fore. The unyielding way in which she pressed Abe on how he intends to deal with child poverty was worthy of praise.
However, in spite of Renho stating when she was elected DP chief that she would aspire to build an opposition that offers proposals, instead of mere criticisms, she lacked any new specific propositions for tackling the problems she pointed out.
For example, in talking about the stalled state of personal consumption in this country, Renho emphasized that it was due to concerns over the future, and called for investment in people, including educational initiatives and child-rearing support. But this is something that the Abe administration has already begun to recognize.
Amid such circumstances, how is the DP going to assert its presence and policies? That's a challenge that Renho must take on.
That she did not even touch upon diplomacy and national security is questionable. DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda had already questioned Abe about Japan's concerns over North Korea and China, and its negotiations with Russia on the Northern Territories issue, and demanded that the LDP retract its 2012 draft constitutional amendment in a plenary session of the House of Representatives.
So perhaps Renho was trying to avoid repeating the same questions to Abe. It is likely Renho is going with the strategy of splitting up responsibilities between herself and Noda to push debate forward in both the upper and lower houses.
However, DP members are known to have widely varying positions on the issues of diplomacy and security, as well as the Constitution, and this is precisely the party's weakness. The first Renho-Abe match as party leaders left the impression that Renho was trying to avoid exposing that weakness. But as party head, it was crucial that she addresses the aforementioned issues.
Prime Minister Abe, meanwhile, turned a deaf ear to any and all criticism and opinions different from his own, as he is wont to do, displaying something far from a humble attitude. He repeatedly emphasized the positive economic indices today compared to those under the administration of the DP's main predecessor party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). "Your criticisms are irrelevant," he kept saying.
How is a debate possible if these are the attitudes and moves taken by both parties?
The ruling parties have an overwhelming majority in the Diet. But the role of the legislature is for the government and ruling parties to incorporate proposals from the opposition if they are beneficial to the public, and to build better proposals from there. Both ruling and opposition parties must put in the work for that to be achieved.