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Democratic Party calls plan to dissolve lower house 'abuse of power'

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai (left) and Democratic Party Secretary-General Atsushi Oshima are surrounded by reporters following a meeting at the Diet building on the morning of Sept. 21, 2017. (Mainichi)

The Democratic Party (DP) and other opposition parties are fiercely protesting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to dissolve the House of Representatives and call a snap general election at the beginning of the extraordinary session of the Diet set to convene Sept. 28.

A Sept. 21 meeting of the board of the House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Administration, in which Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga would have given notice about the convocation of the extraordinary session of the Diet on Sept. 28, was called off because members of the DP refused to attend. Even some members of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are calling on the prime minister to provide the public with a thorough explanation for why the lower house must be dissolved.

In a meeting with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai on Sept. 21, DP Secretary-General Atsushi Oshima once again demanded that question-and-answer sessions by party leaders be held as usual at the extraordinary Diet session. In response, Nikai only went so far as to say he would "consider the matter sincerely."

Following the meeting, Oshima told reporters, "Dissolving the lower house at the outset of the extraordinary Diet session is to muzzle debate in the legislature, which is the highest organ of the state power." Meanwhile, LDP Diet Affairs Chief Hiroshi Moriyama said, "If the lower house is to be dissolved, priority should be placed on that over everything else. It will be extremely difficult to accommodate (the opposition's request)."

Initially, the government had been making plans to dissolve the lower chamber immediately after Prime Minister Abe made his policy speech. That plan was scrapped, however, since doing so would undoubtedly be slammed by opposition parties demanding time for their questions, and would also likely set the government up to receive criticism for unilaterally dissolving the lower house. More and more LDP members became wary of the risks, and it was eventually decided to give up the policy speech altogether.

On June 22, the DP and three other opposition parties submitted a request for an extraordinary Diet session to be convened based on a constitutional provision. Article 53 of the Constitution stipulates that if one-fourth or more of the members of either the House of Representatives or the House of Councillors makes a request, the Diet must be convened. And yet, the government and ruling coalition continued to refuse holding an extraordinary Diet session.

DP chief Seiji Maehara brought up Article 53 at a press conference. "Suspicions are extremely high that the very fact that (a Diet session) has not yet been held is in violation of the Constitution," he said. "What's happening is an abuse of the right to dissolve the lower house."

Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said at a Sept. 21 meeting of his own faction, "Many people are wondering why the lower house is going to be dissolved. It is necessary to clarify what the dissolution is for, and what voters are going to be asked to vote on."

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