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Editorial: Diet session mired by scandals, arrogance lacked in-depth debate on policy

Deliberations at this year's regular Diet session, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe placed particular emphasis on reforming the way people work, effectively came to an end on July 20, ahead of the official close of the session on July 22, a Sunday.

Deliberations on a work-style reform bill during the session hit a snag after flaws were found in data comparing the working hours of regular employees with those working under the discretionary labor system, based on a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey conducted in 2013. Under the discretionary labor system, employees are paid based on fixed work hours instead of actual hours spent on the job. In spite of the hitch, the prime minister managed to save face after proposed expansion of the system was stripped from the bill and the Diet passed the amended version into law.

Besides the work-style reform bill, the Diet enacted legislation closely related to citizens' lives, including a bill to revise the Health Promotion Act to beef up countermeasures against secondhand smoke and one to amend the Civil Code to lower the age of adulthood from 20 to 18.

In spite of this, conflict between ruling and opposition blocs intensified under the Abe administration and as a result, the public does not have the impression that active, in-depth debate was held during Diet deliberations. There is no denying that the governing coalition used its overwhelming majority in the legislature to overpower objections from opposition parties in a high-handed manner.

In particular, one cannot help but wonder whether there was a need to enact a bill to allow the establishment of integrated resorts including casinos after such hasty deliberations. The bill covered the controversial issue of whether a ban on the establishment of casinos should be lifted, and it is extremely regrettable that the legislature failed to hold discussions sufficient to win public understanding of the legislation.

The way the ruling coalition steered the Diet has created the impression that the governing bloc believes it can push through even unreasonable proposals because the opposition bloc is split into many weak groups. Such arrogance was reflected clearly in the amendment to the Public Offices Election Act to help House of Councillors incumbents get elected after losing the chance to run in constituencies due to mergers of districts, with Tottori and Shimane prefectures being merged into one district, and Tokushima and Kochi prefectures into another.

Budget committees at both houses of the Diet, which Prime Minister Abe attended, devolved into venues for opposition parties to grill the government over scandals. The administration repeatedly responded insincerely to questions, and the public became fed up with the lack of fruitful debate.

During the Diet session, the executive branch of the government kept lying to the legislature over favoritism scandals involving two school operators, Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, which will go down in history as one of the biggest scandals of the Heisei era. Even though those linked to Prime Minister Abe, including his wife Akie, were suspected of involvement, the governing bloc resisted summoning them to testify before the Diet -- for which the ruling parties bear a heavy responsibility.

Prime Minister Abe may believe that he has successfully weathered the scandals with the closing of the Diet session. However, even if he is re-elected to a third term as president of the LDP in the party leadership race in September, it will not mean the scandals have been swept away. The Diet should set up a special committee to get to the bottom of these scandals and identify where political responsibility lies in these cases.

The purpose of the Diet goes beyond enacting legislation and monitoring the executive branch. The ruling and opposition parties of the legislative branch should also be holding discussions on the issue of population decline and the situation on the Korean Peninsula among other key policy issues, and sharing political awareness with the public, but have failed to fulfill this role.

The prime minister and opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano's statements in the Diet that debate between party leaders had outlived its historical mission were symbolic. The Diet must rebuild itself into a body that has the capacity for bold and in-depth debate.

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