The ordinary session of the Diet began on Jan. 28, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his policy speech in the plenary sessions of both chambers of the national legislature.
The Heisei era will end at the end of April, and a new Emperor will rise to the Imperial throne on May 1. This Diet session will be a place for discussions connecting Heisei with the next era. Did the speech measure up to the challenges of the times? Unfortunately, we have to say no.
In the first half of his statement, Abe, as usual, kept praising his pet policy of “Abenomics” stimulus measures, citing detailed figures such as “at least a 10-percent growth of the economy during the past six years,” as well as a “28-trillion-yen increase in national and regional tax revenue combined.”
But we cannot forget the fact that the reliability of these numbers is on shaky ground following the emergence of a labor data corruption scandal centering on the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The premier apologized for the scandal, saying that it “damaged trust in the social safety net.” But the problem is not limited to the social security system, including unemployment insurance, which paid people less than they were entitled to because of erroneous data figures.
The sloppy handling of statistics, which are the foundation for policies, substantially damages trust in the administration and the government as a whole, as did the recent document falsification scandal at the Finance Ministry. One has to wonder how serious Abe is in facing up to this situation.
The premier was forced to shift away from his prime agenda in the speech by dedicating less time to his signature issues including constitutional revision, and instead spent a lot of time on subjects tightly linked to the lives of the people, such as the economy and social security. It was a reflection of his focus on the nationwide local elections to be held in spring and the House of Councillors race to be held in summer. In general, he simply emphasized that his policies have been effective, and therefore he will stay on the same track.
Abe did not present a long-term vision for the new era, including measures to deal with the population decline and steps to establish an all-generation social security system.
Even if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continues to win future Diet elections, Prime Minister Abe can only stay in the position of LDP president until fall of 2021.
Because of this deadline, the premier emphasized that his diplomatic undertakings are facing a “time for completion.” However, the reality in this area is that he is running out of effective options in territorial and peace negotiations with Russia and the settlement of the abduction issue involving North Korea.
It will not be possible for the prime minister to bring his tasks to completion without a humble review of his 6-year-long management of both domestic and international policies, including its dark side.