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Editorial: Abe up to his usual tricks of giving cursory answers in Diet

  • October 30, 2018
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 1:00 p.m.
  • English Press

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s answers to opposition questions during the Oct. 29 Lower House session put another damper on hopes for meaningful, in-depth debate on key policy issues at the Diet.


While he spoke at length and earnestly to questions put by ruling party lawmakers that help promote his agenda, Abe gave nothing but perfunctory or boilerplate answers to opposition leaders wanting him to elaborate on the policy speech he delivered Oct. 24 at the outset of the current extraordinary Diet session.


In the Oct. 29 session of the lower chamber to question Abe about his speech, Yukio Edano, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), asked about planned legislation to revise the immigration control law to expand the scope of foreign workers allowed into Japan. The Abe administration is intent on enacting the bill during the current Diet session.


Edano wanted to hear specific measures the prime minister intends to take to deal with a range of related issues, such as the working environment for foreign workers and policy support for their efforts to learn Japanese as well as steps to meet their housing and social security needs.


Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), called for Abe’s commitment to “tackling head-on the challenge of building a society where Japanese and foreigners can live together in harmony.”


In responding to their questions, Abe stressed that he is not proposing a policy shift to accept immigrants. Under this pretext, he did not discuss any specific policy measure to create a better working environment for foreign workers.


In addition to questioning the Abe administration’s policies, opposition leaders also presented various alternative proposals. This was part of a strategy to cast their parties as a viable alternative to Abe’s government in the Upper House election next summer.


Besides a bill to phase out nuclear power generation in Japan the CDP has already submitted to the Diet, Edano said his party is working on a package of four bills to build a decentralized energy supply system as well as a bill to establish a new government agency to manage public documents and records.


The DPP’s Tamaki called on the administration to make spirited efforts to revise the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs facilities and areas used by the U.S. military in Japan, and take bold measures to support children and families raising young children.


Abe, however, made no sincere responses to these calls and proposals. He either failed to offer his own thoughts or refused to answer questions about legislative initiatives by lawmakers, saying the decisions about them are “up to the Diet.”


But Abe spoke eloquently when he answered questions about his constitutional amendment initiative from former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who is now a special aide to the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.


Inada, Abe’s political protege, asked about his proposal to amend the Constitution to codify the constitutional status of the Self-Defense Forces in war-renouncing Article 9, which bans Japan from maintaining “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential.”


While declining to answer her question as the prime minister, he described the proposal as part of his efforts to promote debate on the issue as the LDP’s president.


He nevertheless indicated his strong desire to see his proposal go through by arguing that stipulating the legal status of SDF personnel who risk their lives in carrying out their missions is of fundamental importance for national defense.


The Oct. 29 Lower House session for party representatives to question the prime minister over his policy speech began 45 minutes behind schedule in an unusual delay.


The schedule disruption was caused by the draft proposal for Diet reform presented last week by Sanae Takaichi, an LDP lawmaker who chairs the Lower House Committee on Rules and Administration, the key organ for Diet affairs management.


Takaichi was forced to retract the draft proposal after opposition parties expressed vehement objections to it.


Takaichi’s proposal said bills drafted and submitted by legislators be debated only in the “remaining time” before the end of the Diet session.


This is a disgraceful proposal designed to give a higher priority on deliberations on government-sponsored bills for the sake of the administrative branch’s convenience.


After the political scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Education Institutions that have rocked the administration, the top priority concerning any Diet reform should be on enhancing the legislature’s ability to monitor and check the administrative branch.

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