The Diet is the supreme organ of national authority and the sole national legislative body in Japan. But is it acceptable in its current state? For nearly a month now, since the end of February, the majority of Diet deliberations have been endless repetitions of the same ongoing fracas over Moritomo Gakuen—a single private school and nothing more. While we do not deny the significance of the Diet’s investigation into the allegations against Moritomo Gakuen, we do argue that the people’s tax money is being wasted in this daily round of debates.
During a meeting of the Lower House’s Foreign Affairs Committee on March 17, more than half of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approximately hour-long attendance was taken up with questions about Moritomo Gakuen, and about whether Abe’s defense minister, Tomomi Inada, is really in control of the Self-Defense Forces after it was discovered that a soldier’s diary reported destroyed during Japan’s withdrawal from peacekeeping operations in South Sudan was found intact.
Despite the fact that United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Japan last week, meeting on March 16 with Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on the question of how to respond to North Korea’s recent provocations, the questions fielded by Abe were about a school and a diary.
The new Trump administration has completely rejected the former Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea, indicating that all options are on the table for dealing with the North—including preemptive military strikes. The prospect of war on the Korean peninsula has suddenly become very real. It goes without saying that these developments impinge directly upon Japan’s economic activities and security guarantees.
But the attention of the members of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee—which should be focused on the international situation and Japan’s diplomatic stance—is instead elsewhere. The Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are in an endless pursuit of whether First Lady Akie Abe donated money to Moritomo Gakuen or not, and, if she did, whether she made her donation by wiring the money from a postal savings account. While the facts may be suspicious, there is no hint of any illegality. And yet the debates continue.
The scene in the Diet is deeply troubling. One wants to avert one’s eyes from the bizarre sight.
The primary mission of members of the Diet is to protect the lives, fortunes, and freedom of the Japanese people. Yet many of its members are ignoring impending dangers. Many Diet members are acting as though the goings-on at a private school and the singular figure of its director are more important, more pressing, than the ongoing existence of Japan itself. This is hardly the dignified bearing of a legislator endued by the people with governmental responsibility. This is nothing more than playing with fire for political purposes by binding the hands of the prime minister, the commander-in-chief of the Self-Defense Forces.
The director of the Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, will come before a joint Diet session on March 23 for questioning. Though as things now stand, it is hard to imagine that this will end the uproar and allow the Diet to return to more serious debates. Instead, the few words that Kagoike is likely to speak during questioning will surely be bandied about anew by the Diet as confusion and stalemate continue to reign.
Japanese security and peace are threatened not only by North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons, but also with China’s reckless encroachment into the South and East China Sea in defiance of international law, as well as by the communist regime’s expanding line of military dominance.
At a press conference in Seoul, South Korea on March 17, Secretary of State Tillerson said, “Let me be clear. The policy of strategic patience has ended.” It may also be time for Abe to end his policy of “strategic patience” with the Japanese Diet.
Unless there is a change in the Diet roster—that is, unless there is some degree of turnover in the current lineup of the lower house—then we should expect no change in the Diet’s practices, which are now almost completely concerned with scaring up scandals as part of a recurring publicity stunt far removed from the actual wishes of the Japanese people.
If the Diet is not carrying out its legislative function, then Abe might consider holding off on the passage of the 2017 budget, dissolving the lower house, and holding a general election to test the meaning of the term “legislature.” This is almost certainly a move with which the opposition parties would agree.
Rui Abiru is a member of the Sankei Shimbun Editorial Committee and of the Political Editorial Board