When the next regular Diet session convenes on Jan. 22, one likely focus of debate will be the manner in which Diet deliberations are conducted.

For instance, what should be done about the fact that not one “question time” was held last year?

The ruling coalition is calling for talks with opposition parties to revive this practice. But opposition parties are leery, suspecting the coalition intends to revive it in exchange for reducing the prime minister’s Diet attendance.

Japanese prime ministers are said to spend longer hours in parliament than their European counterparts. It has also been pointed out that in Japan, all Cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, are required to sit through many hours of budget committee sessions.

Is this a really desirable situation? We believe this is a question worth examining.

On the other hand, one reason we cannot readily support the ruling coalition’s argument is that the Shinzo Abe Cabinet has amply demonstrated a tendency to avoid Diet deliberations as much as possible.

Last year, the Diet was open on a total of 190 days for its regular, extraordinary and special sessions--the shortest period in the last two decades. And the Abe administration ignored the opposition’s demand for the convocation of an extraordinary session under Article 53 of the Constitution.

We recall how the ruling Liberal Democratic Party became insistent, during last year’s extraordinary session, on allocating shorter questioning time to opposition parties.

The LDP’s move represented a blatant contempt of the Diet, whose members are representatives of the people and are tasked to monitor and keep the administration in check.

We certainly welcome livelier verbal duels between the prime minister and opposition leaders. But if this is going to result in the prime minister’s reduced participation in Diet deliberations overall, we cannot possibly support it.

Cherry-picking must not be allowed when discussing Diet reform. Talks must be conducted with a clear understanding of the big picture, including how the Diet and the Cabinet should interact.

There are many talking points.

First, there is the need to reinforce the Diet’s function of monitoring and keeping the Cabinet in check. Specifically, the current state in which the ruling coalition repeatedly obstructs the opposition camp’s attempts to exercise its right to investigate governmental affairs must be rectified.

Another problem is that the Diet is often reduced to an “arena” where battles are fought over scheduling, instead of being the forum of legitimate policy deliberations. The possibility of keeping the Diet in session throughout the year is also worth exploring.

Under the way the Diet functions now, Cabinet-proposed bills are examined and endorsed within the ruling coalition before being presented to the Diet, so such bills are rarely amended.

The ruling coalition railroads bills through the Diet, arguing that they have already been scrutinized over a certain period of time. But this very practice of prior deliberation by the ruling coalition needs to be reviewed. One solution would be to put a system in place whereby bills, counter-proposed by opposition parties, are also debated at the same time.

Political reforms since the 1990s have given the Cabinet greater power and authority. The current state of politics, dubbed “Abe ikkyo” (Prime Minister Abe monopolizing politics), can be considered an outcome of this. And this makes the Diet’s monitoring function all the more critically important.

The opposition parties might want to consider establishing an open-to-the-public organ within the Diet for continuous discussion of Diet reform.

It is time for the Diet itself to take the first step in re-examining its functions and duties to truly become the “seat of legislative deliberation” worthy of the public’s trust.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 17