Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Upper House Should Take the High Road

The upper house should not turn away from its role of exercising good judgment by abusing its privilege to censure the prime minister. This is especially true when the censure is a ploy for pushing the premier to dissolve the lower house. It's natural for the opposition to urge the Aso cabinet to quickly dissolve the lower house, but it goes against the fundamentals of our two-tiered parliamentary system to have the upper house censuring the prime minister to force his hand on the lower house's status. This move will only make the upper house more like the lower one; it will become a bastardized version of the lower house and corrupt the political process.

Simply put, the upper house should not play power politics.

There are some within the opposition who are pushing the idea that if Prime Minister Taro Aso isn't inclined to dissolve the lower house quickly, he could be prodded to do so by a threatened upper-house censure. The opposition leadership shouldn't rush into this. It's a bad move.

This sort of thinking is based on the mistaken idea that the authority to dissolve the lower house rests with the prime minister alone. In fact, this idea is wrong on two levels: For one, it's based on the faulty premise that authority to call for the lower house's dissolution rests with an individual — the prime minister. This is just not correct. Second, some may argue that the Constitution gives the cabinet the authority to dissolve the lower house, but this too is wrong. The answer is in Article 7 of the Constitution, which describes the acts that the Emperor shall conduct for the nation. The third item listed is "dissolution of the House of Representatives." "The Emperor shall, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet ..." is how it is worded. The Emperor's state activities are formalities — he is serving as a symbol and should not be involved in exercising political power.

Political change is near. Once a new regime takes over, it should renew our understanding of the Constitution.

Ever since the surprise dissolution of the lower house by the Yoshida cabinet at the end of August 1952 and the subsequent general election in October of that year, the mistaken idea that the power to dissolve the lower house resides in the cabinet has prevailed. The new regime should correct that, making it clear that the power to dissolve the lower house resides in the House of Representatives itself. When it comes to dissolving the lower house, we should honor the authority spelled out in Article 69 ("If the House of Representatives passes a no-confidence resolution, or rejects a confidence resolution, the Cabinet shall resign en masse, unless the House of Representatives is dissolved within 10 days"). A new regime must correct this distorted interpretation of the Constitution, which propagates the idea that it's the prime minister's job to decide when to dissolve the lower house. A proper interpretation shows that the House of Representatives alone should decide when to dissolve itself. This is not an issue that concerns the upper house.

The House of Councilors needs to monitor political power as it is exercised in the lower house and correct things when an offense is committed.

The lower house has the priority because it can name the prime minister. This is the chamber for political power struggles to take place. The upper house should not get involved. The House of Councilors is predicated on good judgment, not power. I ask the opposition to show some self-respect.