Many readers probably have memories of panicking when a teacher at school announced a surprise test. The teacher perhaps seemed a little nastier than usual.
In Japanese political history, one episode about a surprise dissolution of the Lower House stands out.
In 1952, then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, conspiring with a few close aides, abruptly dissolved the Lower House without even holding a plenary session of the chamber.
It is said that Yoshida wanted to deliver a blow to the anti-Yoshida camp by calling an election while his political opponents were unprepared.
In recalling the episode, Shigeru Hori, who took part in the conspiracy as chief Cabinet secretary, said that calling an election was an “abnormal procedure.”
Inspired by that experience or not, Hori, as speaker of the Lower House in 1978, put together his thoughts about the abuse of power to dissolve the Lower House for a snap poll.
His views about the issue were published the year after his death. He argued that any unilateral move by the Cabinet to dissolve the Lower House based solely on its “wishes,” or at its “whim,” ran counter to the spirit of the Constitution.
This argument is often referred to even now during debate over the right to dissolve the Diet chamber.
What kinds of situations justify a dissolution of the Lower House? First, Hori said, a dissolution should be permissible when the Diet has become paralyzed because of a conflict between the ruling and opposition camps. Second, the step is justifiable when it has become necessary to give voters an opportunity to voice their opinions about a grave issue that has emerged since the previous election.
Hori was right in arguing that there should be clear rules that limit the situations when the prime minister can reasonably exercise his power to dissolve the Lower House, which gives him huge political leverage.
But a good political custom concerning this matter has yet to be established in this country. This reality has been brought to the fore by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s unexpected decision to dissolve the Lower House.
The only way to prevent abuse of the power to call a snap election is for voters to use their ballots to make clear their opposition to such actions.
Voters need to see the real motive behind moves to call a snap poll and doubt the leader’s arguments about what should be the defining theme of the election.
In this case, voters should ask themselves whether the election should really revolve around Abenomics. Or it should be about Abe’s stance toward the Constitution.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23