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Editorial: Time cut for opposition questions runs counter to customary Diet practice

Time for questions allotted to opposition parties in a House of Representatives Budget Committee session that convenes next week will be sharply reduced. The ruling bloc took advantage of its overwhelming majority to make the decision.

The prime minister's office and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had not intended to hold substantive deliberations in the ongoing special session convened following the Oct. 22 general election, has proposed to reduce time allotted to opposition parties for questions apparently in return for holding substantive debate. The ruling bloc explained that the move was aimed at increasing time given to younger legislators with the governing coalition to ask questions during the session.

If opposition parties were to refuse to attend deliberations in protest, they would lose an opportunity to grill Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over favoritism scandals involving two school operators -- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution. Therefore, the opposition bloc was forced to accept the change in the ratio of time allotted to opposition and ruling camps for questions from 4 to 1 to 9 to 5.

Former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita underscored the importance of yielding time to opposition parties in 1988. In a Diet session that year, Takeshita pointed out that the ruling bloc could examine the executive branch's policy measures in advance, and said, "We're determined to listen to minority opinions as much as possible," and, "We'll give opposition parties more time."

The LDP has maintained this as its tradition, though it has drawn criticism as collusive political decision-making through backdoor negotiations between ruling and opposition parties' Diet affairs committees. The legislature's practice of giving opposition parties more time for questions is a common convention among democratic countries with parliamentary systems.

In a House of Councillors session, Democratic Party (DP) leader Kohei Otsuka said conservative politicians "should have the pride to adhere to this practice in the Diet."

Prime Minister Abe responded, "Some have pointed out that those elected to the Diet by winning tens of thousands or more votes should fulfill their responsibility in the Diet regardless of whether they belong to ruling or opposition parties, thereby responding to the public mandate."

Under a parliamentary system, the ruling bloc's role is to cooperate closely with the executive branch in drafting bills, and the opposition parties are supposed to check the power of the administration through Diet deliberations. The prime minister's suggestion that ruling bloc legislators cannot fulfill their responsibility unless they ask questions in the Diet does not justify ignoring this long-established Diet practice.

Moreover, his suggestion contradicts the demand the LDP had made when it was an opposition party for more time for questions to be allotted to opposition parties.

Time allotted to the ruling bloc for questions was also increased in a session of the lower chamber's Committee on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which was convened last week following the approval of Kake Educational Institution's plan to establish a university-level veterinary school in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari.

LDP legislator Hiroyuki Yoshiie, devoted most of his time to ask questions at the session to expressing support for the government's decision, and criticizing opposition parties and media outlets. This has raised concerns as to whether governing coalition lawmakers will make meaningful use of the five hours over two days allotted to them for questions in a lower house Budget Committee session.

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