Question time will be allotted at a ratio of 3 to 7 in favor of the opposition parties during the upcoming session of the Lower House Budget Committee, where a fiscal 2017 supplementary budget bill will be discussed.

A ratio of 2 to 8 in favor of the opposition has been customary since the reign (2009-2012) of the then Democratic Party of Japan. That apportionment was pushed back to 36 to 64 during the special Diet session last autumn.

The opposition’s share has again ended up being curtailed. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which won a sweeping victory during the Lower House election last year, has remained firm on this issue.

There should be no more cuts in the opposition question time. The latest allotment ratio should not be allowed to become permanent. That is because the practice of assigning lavish Diet question time to opposition parties carries a great significance.

It is true that lawmakers, who are representatives of all the people, should be given as equal opportunities as possible for asking questions. It should not be forgotten, at the same time, that the government and the ruling parties form a united body under Japan’s parliamentary Cabinet system.

Government bills have to be approved by the ruling parties through a process of prior screening before they are submitted to the Diet. Lawmakers of the ruling bloc have opportunities, during that process, to be briefed on them, ask questions about them and have their views reflected in them.

That is why it is up to the role of opposition parties alone to ask questions about possible problems in the bills and call for them to be modified in the Diet.

One ruling bloc member has said that governing parties should also be allowed to have their arguments understood by the public. Another has complained that young lawmakers are given so few opportunities that they are sometimes taken for being lazy. We cannot, however, agree with similar arguments.

It suffices to recall a scene from the extraordinary Diet session last year. An interpellator from the LDP lavished praise on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for the many talks he has had with foreign leaders and said, “He probably finds it embarrassing to say in his own words that we are in a state of things like this. Well, I won’t say I am flattering him.”

His remarks showed no slightest sign of the sense of tension that the legislative branch of government should have in the face of the executive branch.

There was, in fact, an impure motive behind the call for less opposition question time.

Ruling party officials first called for an allotment ratio of 5 to 5 ahead of out-of-session Diet hearings held last summer. Their demand, from the very start, betrayed a desire to dampen, to the extent they could, opposition grilling of Abe over the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution, both being school operators.

During the extraordinary Diet session, the opposition accepted less question time on the condition that the new apportionment would never be used as a precedent. That notwithstanding, a senior LDP official has recently said there is a limit to the allowances that can be made to minority parties.

That could only be described as a tyranny of the majority.

There is a broad array of Diet reform issues on which ruling and opposition parties should work cooperatively, such as making party leaders’ Diet debate into a regular event, reducing the burden on Cabinet ministers in having to attend Diet sessions and discussing how to handle opposition counterproposals during Diet discussions.

The ruling bloc is wrong in putting so much effort into the sole issue of cutting down on the question time for the opposition at a time when the governing and opposition parties are called on precisely to have discussions on those matters.

Continued cuts in opposition question time would only eviscerate Diet deliberations and weaken the function of the legislative branch in keeping watch over the executive branch of government.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 28