The fourth Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was launched on Nov. 1 after he was re-elected as prime minister during a special session of the Diet earlier that day. He reappointed all members of his Cabinet, which had been reshuffled in early August.
First and foremost, we would like to ask Abe to take heed to the spirit of Article 66 of the Constitution, whose third paragraph states: "The Cabinet, in the exercise of executive power, shall be collectively responsible to the Diet." This is a basic principle of the parliamentary Cabinet system, in which the prime minister is elected by the legislature.
The reason for us to bring this particular clause up at this moment is the abnormal state the Diet just recently faced, where the period of the special Diet session remained in limbo until the very first day of the session on Nov. 1.
The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito had initially aimed to wrap up the special Diet session in just eight days, evoking a fierce opposition backlash.
The Abe administration had also expressed a negative stance toward convening an extraordinary Diet session after the special session. That would mean no full Diet deliberations will take place for over six months -- from June when the ordinary session ended to January next year when another ordinary session is scheduled to convene. To begin with, the fact that no Diet debate has taken place over the past three months since the August Cabinet reshuffle is abnormal.
It was only natural for opposition forces to demand that the special Diet session be held for over a month, including the prime minister's policy speech, question and answer sessions by party representatives and budget committee deliberations. The ruling coalition ended up agreeing to hold the special session until Dec. 9 -- after resisting until the very last minute.
The ruling coalition also proposed that the time allotted to opposition party legislators posing questions in the Diet be reduced, as if to make it a condition for complying with the opposition camp's request for Diet deliberations. One cannot help but wonder if the ruling bloc's move came out of consideration for Abe's desire to slash time allowed for opposition parties to grill him over favoritism scandals involving two school operators -- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.
If one is asked why the Cabinet holds responsibility to the Diet, the answer is because the prime minister's position is granted by none other than the Diet.
The Diet comprises ruling and opposition lawmakers. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Abe appears to believe that he can exercise his executive power just with the approval of ruling party legislators, who voted for him in the Diet nomination for prime minister. He should be aware that the Cabinet's exercise of executive power can be justified only after it fulfills its accountability to the Diet, including opposition parties that do not necessarily go along with the prime minister.
In late September, Prime Minister Abe dissolved the House of Representatives for a snap general election after labeling the circumstances surrounding North Korea and the country's declining birth rate and aging population as a "national crisis." If such a critical political agenda lies ahead, he should act as quickly as possible to put these issues to Diet debate.
An election victory does not mean that a prime minister can just bypass the Diet. Prime Minister Abe should be true to his vows to provide "humble and sincere" explanations to the Diet and strive to build a consensus between ruling and opposition parties.