The question and answer session in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policy speech began in the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Oct. 29.
The focus of attention was questioning by Yukio Edano, who heads the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP). The opposition party is now the largest in both houses of the Diet, and thus carries greater responsibilities than other parties in the opposition camp.
Edano began his questioning by attacking Abe's failure in his policy speech to respond to a July statement by House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima. The speaker criticized the administration's handling of a series of scandals including the Ministry of Finance's doctoring of documents related to a favoritism allegation as "shaking the foundations of democracy" and demanded a response from the government.
Abe's short answer was "I feel a strong sense of responsibility." We would like to give Edano credit for hitting the very spot that signifies the true nature of the Abe administration that makes light of the Diet.
But we were left with a lot of frustration by Edano's questioning, too.
About the government-sponsored revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to accept more foreign workers, Edano attacked the premier saying those changes look no different to accepting immigrants, to which Abe has argued against. "What is the difference?" he demanded. "Progressing on the issue before preparations are complete will cause serious problems in the future," Edano added. These are legitimate questions and statements.
The opposition leader, however, did not clarify his own stance about the new policy's potential to accept long-term immigrants. This issue is controversial and people's opinions are divided, but continuing to sit on the fence on this is not a responsible way of handling the matter.
On the issue of constitutional revisions proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Edano stopped short of offering a counterproposal and just criticized Abe for leading efforts to change the supreme law. "The core value of the Constitution is controlling the power of the state, but the premier is championing its revision although he is subject to its control," Edano said.
Edano should be aware that his party has been criticized for "just being an accuser of the administration" without offering alternatives, and that tendency appears to be getting worse, judging from his Diet questioning. If it carries on this way, the opposition party cannot expect to gain more support from the people.
In an apparent bid to highlight differences with the CDP, Democratic Party for the People (DPP) chief Yuichiro Tamaki made a number of proposals during his question time. For example, he urged Abe to accelerate the resolution of the Northern Territories issue by first agreeing with Russia, which occupies the four islands claimed by Japan, on the return of two of the islands and to further negotiate for the full return of the remaining two.
Tamaki also asked the premier to enhance Japanese-language education for foreign workers, while proposing a "peaceful revision" to the Constitution that includes restrictions and acceptable conditions for the use of the right to self-defense. He implied that his party is ready to discuss constitutional revisions in the Diet.
In the case of the DPP, however, such a posture is generally construed as supporting the Abe administration.
The opposition camp continues to face a big challenge of confronting the Abe government. Both the CDP and the DPP need to admit their own weak points and help each other to counter the ruling camp.