TOKYO -- Hakubun Shimomura, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s constitutional revision headquarters, has come under fire for stating that opposition parties have "walked off the job" by not complying with an early convening of the Diet's Commission on the Constitution, and is set to decline a key post in the panel.
Shimomura, who has headed the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution since October, said during the recording of a program on TBS on Nov. 9, "Aren't they walking off their jobs as lawmakers if they won't even engage in candid discussions? Can they just walk off while receiving a high salary?"
His comment apparently came out of frustration over the fact that the Commission on the Constitution in each house of the Diet has yet to meet during the current extraordinary Diet session. Opposition parties reacted sharply to Shimomura's remarks, and senior directors of the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution hailing from the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and five other opposition parties and factions held a meeting in the Diet building on Nov. 13, where they agreed that they would not comply with talks for setting the panel's meeting dates unless Shimomura apologized.
Ikuo Yamahana of the CDP, who serves as chief opposition bloc director in the lower house constitution panel, told the LDP's Yoshitaka Shindo on the phone that it would be difficult to hold the panel's meeting on Nov. 15 unless Shimomura takes responsibility.
Amid the turmoil, Shimomura decided not to serve as director of the lower house constitution panel, a post he was informally offered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe has also named Shindo, former internal affairs and communications minister, as chief director of the ruling bloc in the panel. The appointment of Abe's close aides to the posts was apparently aimed at accelerating Diet discussions on constitutional amendment.
While Shimomura's remark came apparently out of consideration for Abe's ambitions, the lawmaker's prowess in leading discussions on constitutional amendment had been called into question from the time he was named for the key post. "Shimomura has hardly any experience in dealing with Diet affairs," grouched a former Cabinet member.
Shimomura still intends to attend the lower house constitution commission's meetings as a panel member, but he would not be allowed to be directly involved in the management of the commission.
The LDP will also likely be pressed to review its strategy. While the party intends to spur debate in the Diet's constitution panels by starting with discussion on a bill to revise the constitutional referendum law, and then explain the party's draft revisions to the supreme law to other parties, the plan has yet to come into fruition.
Even some in the LDP have slammed Shimomura for his controversial comment. LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai told a press conference on Nov. 12, "He can say whatever he wants at his own responsibility, but he should be extra careful when it comes to saying something to opposition parties." Shindo also said, "He should strictly refrain from such remarks."
Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito, told a Nov. 13 press conference, "Shimomura's comment creates a situation where discussions would not advance."
While the Commission on the Constitution in each chamber is supposed to hold a regular meeting once a week, the panel in the lower house will not gather on the next regular meeting day on Nov. 15. In the meantime, the current Diet session is scheduled to come to a close on Dec. 10.
Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, told reporters in Tokyo on Nov. 13, "Shimomura was effectively dismissed, and it was only natural. I'd like to see if his action (of not taking up the key post) can really create an environment where opinions of the opposition camp will be heard."
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Tanaka and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)