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Diet of Japan
The National Diet of Japan (国会; Kokkai) is Japan's legislature. It consists of two houses: the House of Representatives (衆議院; Shūgi-in) and the House of Councillors (参議院; Sangi-in). Both houses of the Diet are directly elected under a parallel voting system. As well as passing laws the Diet is formally responsible for selecting the Prime Minister. The National Diet Building (国会議事堂 Kokkai-gijidō) is located in Nagatacho, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
The Constitution of Japan does not specify the number of members of each house of the Diet, the voting system, or the necessary qualifications of those who may vote or be returned in parliamentary elections, allowing all of these things to be determined by law. However it does guarantee universal adult suffrage and a secret ballot. It also insists that the electoral law must not discriminate in terms of "race, creed, sex, social status, family origin, education, property or income".
The House of Representatives has 480 members elected on the same day for four year terms. The House of Councillors has 252 members who serve six year terms; one half of its number are elected once every three years. The franchise for elections to either house is open to all citizens who are at least twenty years of age (the age of majority in Japan). Membership of the Diet is open to citizens who are at least twenty-five in the case of the House of Representatives and thirty in the case of the upper house, and no one may be a member of both houses at the same time. Each house has authority to adjudicate in disputes as to the qualifications of its members, however no member may be disqualified from their seat except by the vote of a two-thirds majority.
Both houses of the Diet are elected under a parallel voting system. This means that the seats to be filled in any given election are divided into two groups, each elected by a different method. Voters are also asked to cast two votes: one for an individual candidate in a constituency, and one for a party list. Japan's parallel voting system is not to be confused with the Additional Member System used in many other nations.
- House of Representatives: Of 480 members, 300 are elected from single seat constituencies under the Single Member Plurality ('First-past-the-post') system, and 180 are elected from eleven separate electoral blocs under the party list system of proportional representation (PR).
- House of Councillors: Of 252 members, 152 are elected from 11 prefectural constituencies by means of the Single Non-Transferable Vote. The remaining 100 are elected by party list PR from a single national list.
See also: List of members of the Diet of Japan
It is the role of the Diet to:
- Enact the law.
- Designate the Prime Minister.
- Ratify treaties.
- Approve the budget.
- Propose amendments to the constitution which must then be approved by the people.
- Investigate government activities.
- Establish a court from among its members for the trial and impeachment of judges.
In most circumstances, in order to become law a bill must be first be passed by both houses of the Diet and then promulgated by the Emperor. This role of the Emperor is analogous to the Royal Assent in some other nations, however the Emperor cannot refuse to promulgate a law and therefore his legislative role is merely a formality.
The House of Representatives is the most powerful chamber of the Diet. While the House of Representatives cannot usually overrule the House of Councillors on a bill, the House of Councillors can only delay the adoption of a budget or a treaty that has been approved by the House of Representatives, and the House of Councillors has almost no power at all to prevent the lower house from selecting any Prime Minister it wishes. Furthermore, once appointed it is the confidence of the House of Representatives alone that the Prime Minister must enjoy in order to continue in office. The House of Representatives can overrule the upper house in the following circumstances:
- If a bill is adopted by the House of Represenatives and then either rejected, amended or not approved within 60 days by the House of Councillors, then the bill will become law if again adopted by the House of Representatives by a majority of at least two-thirds of members present.
- If both houses cannot agree on a budget or a treaty, even through the appointment of a joint committee of the Diet, or if the House of Councillors fails to take final action on a proposed budget or treaty within 30 days of its approval by the House of Represenatives, then the decision of the lower house is deemed to be that of the Diet.
- If both houses cannot agree on a candidate for Prime Minister, even through a joint committee, or if the House of Councillors fails to designate a candidate within 10 days of House of Represenatives' decision, then the nominee of the lower house is deemed to be that of the Diet.
Under the constitution at least one session of the Diet must be convoked each year. Technically only the House of Representatives is dissolved before an election but while the lower house is in dissolution the House of Councillors is usually 'closed'. The Emperor both convokes the Diet and dissolves the House of Representatives but in doing must act on the advice of the Cabinet. In an emergency the Cabinet can convoke the Diet for an extraordinary session, and an extraordinary session may be requested by one quarter of the members of either house. At the beginning of each parliamentary session the Emperor reads a special speech outlining the government's plans for the coming year from his throne in the chamber of the House of Councillors (see Speech from the Throne).
The presence of one third of the membership of either house constitutes a quorum and deliberations are in public unless at least two-thirds of those present agree otherwise. Each house elects its own presiding officer who exercises the casting vote in the event of a tie. Members of each house have certain protections against arrest while the Diet is in session and words spoken and votes cast in the Diet enjoy parliamentary privilege. Each house of the Diet determines its own standing orders and has responsibility for discplining its own members. A member may be expelled, but only by a two-thirds majority vote. Every member of the Cabinet has the right to appear in either house of the Diet for the purpose of speaking on bills, and each house has the right to compel the appearance of Cabinet members.
Japan's first modern legislature was the Imperial Diet established by the Meiji constitution in force from 1889-1947. The Meiji Constitution was adopted on February 11, 1889 and the Imperial Diet first met on November 29, 1890 when the document entered into operation. The Diet consisted of a House of Representatives and a House of Peers (Kizokuin). The House of Representatives was directly elected, if on a limited franchise; universal adult male suffrage was introduced in 1925. The House of Peers, much like the British House of Lords, consisted of high ranking nobles.
The word diet derives from Latin and was a common name for an assembly in Medieval Germany. The Meiji constitution was largely based on the form of constitutional monarchy found in nineteenth century Prussia and the new Diet was modelled partly on the German Reichstag and partly on the British Westminster system. Unlike Japan's modern constitution, the Meiji constitution granted a real political role to the Emperor, although in practice the Emperor's powers were largely directed by a group of oligarchs called the genro.
To become law a bill or constitutional amendment had to have the assent of both the Diet and the Emperor. This meant that while the Emperor could no longer legislate by decree he still had a veto over the Diet. The Emperor also had complete freedom in choosing the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and so, under the Meiji constitution, Prime Ministers often were not chosen from and did not enjoy the confidence of the Diet. The Imperial Diet was also limited in its control over the budget. While the Diet could veto the annual budget, if no budget was approved the budget of the previous year continued in force.
The Constitution of Japan, adopted in 1947, created a more democratic system and renamed the legislature to the National Diet. Under the document the franchise was extended to women for the first time and the House of Peers was abolished and replaced with the directly elected House of Councillors. The Emperor was reduced to his current, purely ceremonial role, and the Diet declared the "highest organ of the state power" (Article 41). Prior to 1994 all Diet elections occurred under the Single Non-Transferable Vote system. In 1994 this was replaced with the current parallel system.
- National Diet Library: Diet and Parliaments has the Diet minutes (In Japanese) and additional information.
- House of Councillors - official website
- House of Representatives - official website
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