Abe under fire for Lower House plans

Opposition says bid to dissolve chamber aims to suppress debate on scandals

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to hold a press conference on Monday, after returning from his trip to the US.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to hold a press conference on Monday, after returning from his trip to the US.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

TOKYO • The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally announced yesterday the ruling coalition's plan to convene an extraordinary Diet session next Thursday, the outset of which is likely to see Mr Abe dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

The government's endorsement of the plan to disband the lower chamber of Japan's bicameral Parliament was announced by top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, at a meeting of the steering committees of both chambers.

But the move has drawn staunch criticism from opposition parties. They believe the move by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior Komeito party ally to approve Mr Abe's plan to dissolve the Lower House without making a policy speech is, in part, to purposely suppress parliamentary debate on some contentious issues.

The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, Mr Seiji Maehara, took aim at the plan.

He said Mr Abe not making a policy speech or allowing parliamentary deliberations, which would see him grilled by the opposition camp over accusations of cronyism, is an "act that ridicules the highest organ of state power".

Yesterday, the Democratic Party refused to attend steering committees of the two chambers, in protest against the ruling camp's plan to dissolve the Lower House. On Thursday, it abstained from attending steering committees of the two houses that were scheduled to hold board meetings.

The meetings were subsequently cancelled.

The ruling coalition maintains that dissolving the lower chamber takes precedence over anything else, including Mr Abe giving a policy speech, the holding of a Budget committee meeting, and parliamentary deliberations on ongoing influence-peddling scandals involving the Premier, but the opposition bloc fervently disagrees.

A member of the Japanese Communist Party yesterday told a meeting that the opposition camp had insisted that the government convene an extraordinary session based on a Constitutional provision. The lawmaker said that dissolving the Lower House without holding any session would violate the Constitution.

The Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party and two other opposition parties maintain that allegations pertaining to cronyism and other such issues must be deliberated on. They have accused the ruling coalition of deliberately trying to suppress debate in the Diet on contentious, scandal-linked issues that have plagued the LDP and seen the support rate for Mr Abe's Cabinet plummet recently.

Despite protests from the opposition camp, LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai said on Thursday at a party meeting that Mr Abe would hold a press conference when he returned from New York, where he was attending the United Nations General Assembly. The press conference would be scheduled for Monday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Abe under fire for Lower House plans'. Subscribe