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Japan Government - The Diet

The term "Diet" can be confusing to modern ears, which are accustomed to hearing a diet as food and drink regularly provided or consumed; a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight; something provided or experienced repeatedly [ as in a diet of Broadway shows and nightclubs]. The word first was seen in the 13th century, and derives from the Middle English diete, from Anglo-French, from Latin diaeta, from Greek diaita, literally, manner of living, from diaitasthai to lead one's life.

The vastly less common sense of the word is a legislative assembly, such as the formal general assembly of the princes or estates of the Holy Roman Empire. In this case, the word is thought to derive from the Middle English diete, a day's journey, day for meeting, assembly, from Medieval Latin dieta, alteration (influenced by Latin dies, day) of Latin diaeta, daily routine.

Parliamentary bodies in Japan, Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, the Scandinavian nations, and Germany have been called diets. The Diet of Worms of the Holy Roman Empire held at Worms, Germany, in 1521 was made famous by Martin Luther’s appearance before it to respond to charges of heresy. Shakespeare, in Hamlet (Act IV, Scene 3) makes a punning reference to the Diet of Worms that brings together the two meanings. Hamlet says of the dead Polonius: "A certain convocation of politic worms are e'en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet."

The Japanese diet was established as the national legislature in 1889, and until 1947, the upper house (Peers) was appointive. After 1947, the upper house was made elective (Councillors). In 2001 the total number of members of the House of Councillors was reduced from 252 to 247, and in 2004 it was reduced to 242. As of 2011, of the 242 current seats, 146 were filled according to the electoral district system and the remaining 96 are filled based on a proportional representation system. All members are chosen for six-year terms. Half of the total number are chosen every three years. Members of the House of Councillors remain in their positions whether or not there is a dissolution of the House of Representatives. One must be at least 30 years old to be elected to the House of Councillors.

It is formally specified that the Diet, as the core of Japan’s system of governance, takes precedence over the government’s executive branch. The designation of the prime minister, who heads the executive branch, is done by resolution of the Diet. Japan practices a system of parliamentary cabinet by which the prime minister appoints the majority of the cabinet members from among members of the Diet. The cabinet thus works in solidarity with the Diet and is responsible to it. In this respect, the system is similar to that of Great Britain, but different from that of the United States, where the three branches of government are theoretically on a level of perfect equality.

The Diet is the “sole law-making organ of the State.” All legislations must follow a process leading to final approval in the Diet. The Diet has additional important functions, such as approving the national budget, ratifying international treaties, and setting in motion any formal proposals for amending the constitution. Three categories of Diet sessions are held: ordinary, extraordinary, and special. The ordinary session, which is convened once a year during January with a term of 150 days, plays the central role because that is where Diet members deliberate on the next year’s budget and the laws necessary to implement that budget.

Although the House of Councillors and the House of Representatives share power, the latter predominates in decisions on legislation, designation of the prime minister, budgetary matters, and international treaties. For example, if a bill is passed by the House of Representatives but the House of Councillors deliberates otherwise (rejecting the bill or insisting on alterations), the bill will nevertheless become law if resubmitted to the House of Representatives and approved by two thirds of the members present.

The Diet is divided into two chambers: the lower chamber, or the House of Representatives, and the upper chamber, or the House of Councillors. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for four-year terms, but the cabinet may dissolve the House of Representatives before the end of a full term. These differences lead to the perception that somehow the House of Representatives is a true representative body of the people. In contrast, the nature of the House of Councillors remains ambiguous.

The House of Representatives may introduce “no-confidence motions” with respect to the cabinet. The cabinet, on the other hand, is able to dissolve the House of Representatives. It also has the authority to designate the chief judge and appoint the other judges of the Supreme Court. It is the Supreme Court that determines the constitutionality of any law or official act. The constitution authorizes the Diet to “set up an impeachment court from among the members of both houses in order to try any judges against whom removal proceedings have been instituted.” Japan’s Diet is designated in the constitution as “the highest organ of state power.” The Diet is made up of members who are directly elected by citizens of at least 20 years of age.

The political parties, to which almost all Diet members belong, are the basic units of political activity. Thus Japan is said to practice party politics. The prime minister is chosen by the Diet from among its members. The prime minister then forms a cabinet, and the cabinet controls the executive branch of government.

The Japanese Diet was set up by the allied forces who based it on the German parliamentary system. During the post-war era this resulted in one-party rule until the widely criticized Japanese party system was changed in 1994. Japan experienced a change in its electoral system in 1994: the single non transferable vote (SNTV) was abandoned, and a mixed system was adopted. This change affected the two major elections in Japan: the general election for the House of Representatives or lower house held every four years, and the elections for the House of Councilors or upper house, held every three years to choose one half of its members.

In a general election, Japanese citizens aged 18 or older have two ways to decide who will represent them in the Lower House. They can cast two ballots. One, to choose the name of a candidate they want to fill their constituencies. 289 lawmakers are chosen this way. On the second ballot, voters pick from a list of political parties and groups. 176 lawmakers are then elected by proportional representation. Some candidates are running in both systems, meaning they have a better chance to win.

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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:20:47 ZULU