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Editorial: Abe’s policy speech fails on all counts to address concerns

  • January 29, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:25 p.m.
  • JMH Translation

This year’s ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 28 with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy speech.


The Abe administration, supported by a dominant ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, is using a high-handed approach to pursue its policy agenda. It has refused to engage in serious policy debate with opposition parties and suppressed dissenting voices with the power of the overwhelming majority the coalition enjoys in both houses.


This year’s political calendar has two key events–unified local elections in spring and the Upper House poll in summer.


The Diet should tackle important domestic and foreign policy issues one by one in a sincere manner and thereby offer voters substance for their decisions at the polls.


Regrettably, Abe’s address to the Diet was not helpful.


Although he used the phrase “toward the era after the Heisei” (era, which is to end in April with the emperor’s abdication) as many as seven times, Abe did not lay out any specific vision for the nation’s future. Instead, he often reiterated his existing policy proposals and sang his own praises.


On the other hand, Abe failed to confront policy challenges demanding responses from his administration and offered few straightforward answers to questions and criticisms among the public.


The administration’s first order of business is to respond to a scandal over faulty government labor statistics used to calculate amounts paid out to workers for unemployment and worker’s compensation benefits.


Abe apologized for the scandal, which has caused 20.15 million beneficiaries to be shortchanged by about 60 billion yen ($549.4 million), saying the inappropriate survey had damaged public trust in the nation’s “safety net.” He promised to “do everything possible to pay out the balance owed as quickly as possible by using simple procedures” and regain public trust in the statistics.


The ministry’s hasty investigation into the problem has been criticized for raising more questions than it has answered. The scandal has badly damaged the credibility of the government, but Abe’s perfunctory remarks signaled neither a keen awareness of the seriousness of the situation nor a determination to make all-out efforts to uncover the truth.


Much the same is true with the new system to allow more foreign nationals to work in Japan, which will be introduced in April with many related questions remaining unaddressed.


Despite its huge implications for the future of Japanese society, Abe only discussed the new visa program from the viewpoint of policy measures to support small and midsize companies.


He only tried to reassure the public simply by saying that it will help lay a foundation for Japan’s “renewed economic growth.” He made no reference to issues concerning policy efforts to help newly arriving foreign workers blend in smoothly or deal with flaws found in the existing Technical Intern Training Program, which has been used to let foreign workers in.


Abe sought to win public support to the scheduled consumption tax rate hike to 10 percent by arguing the step is “absolutely necessary.”


Abe stressed the massive spending package designed to cushion the economic impact of the tax increase, saying the measures will effectively return all new tax receipts back to taxpayers. But he did not say anything about the need for debate on the core question of future burdens and benefits.


As for foreign and security policy areas, Abe made no mention of Japan’s strained relationship with South Korea, which he described as the nation’s “most important neighbor” in his past speeches.


The bilateral relationship is in crisis due to bitter disputes over the top South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to Korean laborers working in Japanese plants during World War II, and the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s claim that a South Korean destroyer locked its fire-control radar on an MSDF patrol aircraft.


This difficult state of the bilateral relationship makes it all the more important for Japan’s leader to offer a message about the ties from a broad perspective.


In the autumn extraordinary Diet session, Abe pledged to “face people’s concerns squarely.” But he seems to have forgotten this vow.


No progress has been made toward getting to the bottom of the scandals involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.


Abe should realize that the problems with his long-ruling government, most notably its arrogance and lax discipline, can never be fixed unless he sets an example by shaping up himself.

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