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Opposition fails to corner Abe administration in Lower House Budget Committee

  • 2016-02-08 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: February 6, 2016 – p. 4)


 The House of Representatives Budget Committee finished its three days of basic debate on the draft FY16 budget on Feb. 5. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to take advantage of the resignation of former Economic Revitalization Minister Akira Amari and was derailed in its strategy in attacking the government. It also failed to determine its focus. On the other hand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe brought up issues he has a strong interest in, including constitutional revision, provoking the opposition on a number of occasions.


 The DPJ had set “politics and money” as the top priority during the three-day debate.


 Deputy leader Akira Nagatsuma called for banning donations by companies and organizations to cabinet members and that ministers should refrain from receiving such donations. He suggested revising the current code of conduct for ministers, which he asserted “can be done immediately through an order of the Prime Minister.” However, Abe asserted, “I do not think that donations by companies and organizations are wrong per se,” indicating there is no need to revise the code. He even countered with: “The DPJ was also in power. Why did it not make the revision from that standpoint?”


 After the Amari affair came up, the DPJ decided to concentrate on this issue. It had hoped to question Amari’s eligibility as a minister, as well as Abe’s responsibility for appointing him, in order to fuel criticism against the administration. However, it lost momentum as a result of Amari’s swift resignation. While DPJ members of the Budget Committee did form a team to pursue this issue and cited the results of interviews with Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism officials, they were not able to uncover any new facts.


 The DPJ has also been lackluster on the issue of social disparity, an area it wants to prioritize in the House of Councillors election this summer. They were carried away by the Amari affair.


 The DPJ’s strategy of confronting the administration on the issue of disparity has also faded, partly as a result of Abe’s moving closer to the DPJ’s policy by advocating the creation of a “virtuous cycle of growth and distribution.”


 Abe’s shifting to a more positive stance on constitutional revision had at first been seen by the DPJ as an opportunity to attack him. However, they were instead faced with a counterattack from Abe: “Regarding the Constitution as untouchable and claiming that even thinking about it is wrong amounts to intellectual paralysis.” The party is still divided between supporters and opponents of constitutional revision, so it is still unable to come up with counterproposals.


 Another factor behind the DPJ’s ineffectiveness is the lack of unity among the opposition parties. Yasushi Adachi from the Initiatives from Osaka [Osaka Ishin no Kai] openly denounced the interpellations by DPJ and Japan Innovation Party members of the Lower House Budget Committee as “false accusation or hair-splitting.” He even shouted at them and told them to “show sincere appreciation for the ministers’ hard work.”


 Abe appeared to be on the offensive. He found fault with the DPJ not only when he was asked about constitution revision but even on the issue of revenue sources to cover the reduced consumption tax rate for food items. With the DPJ’s zigzagging on Futenma relocation during its administration in mind, he stated sarcastically: “At least we won’t say we have a plan when we don’t.”


 While some DPJ members claim they were able to expose the Prime Minister’s arrogance, Abe’s aides are also concerned that, “Although the opposition’s questions were awful, the Prime Minister was also too emotional.” (Slightly abridged)

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