Party leaders’ cross-examination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his policy speech to start the current extraordinary Diet session has commenced. It has been a long time indeed since we have seen debate in the legislature.
The first to take the floor to question Abe was Yukio Edano, chief of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), and his line of interrogation naturally covered a broad range of essential issues, from the domestic to the diplomatic.
As usual, however, the prime minister provided naught but apathetic answers. For example, Edano pressed Abe for government comment on the recently revealed scandal at Kansai Electric Power Co., where executives were found to have accepted stupendously expensive gifts from a former official of a town hosting one of the firm’s nuclear plants. Abe’s responses revealed what can only be called a faithless attitude toward the Japanese public.
It hardly needs mentioning that nuclear energy policy has advanced in this country through close collusion between past administrations led by Abe’s own Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the big power companies, Kansai Electric included. The gift scandal at the company raises the specter of “nuclear money” — the vast sums of electricity fee revenues and public funding poured into atomic power — being redirected into the pockets of big power producers’ senior leadership. In other words, the doubts arising from the Kansai Electric scandal could eat away at the very roots of public trust in government atomic energy policy.
Nevertheless, all Abe would say on the subject was, “It is natural for electricity companies to put effort into proper management.” He would not even say that the Kansai Electric revelations were regrettable, and from start to finish has appeared intent on leaving the entire matter to an upcoming Kansai Electric internal probe. We wonder if the prime minister truly understands how serious this problem is.
The story was not much different for the recently revealed dustup between Japan Post Holdings Co. and public broadcaster NHK. In that incident, Japan Post pushed back hard against an NHK news feature program showing post offices using illicit tactics to sell insurance policies. The broadcaster’s Board of Governors caved in to the pressure and issued a stern warning to NHK President Ryoichi Ueda. The allegations of predatory insurance sales techniques eventually proved to be on the mark.
CDP leader Edano raised questions about the status of NHK and freedom of the press in connection with the affair. Again, however, Prime Minister Abe would not engage, saying only that he was “not in a position to comment.”
And then there was the decision by the Agency for Cultural Affairs to rescind subsidies for the Aichi Triennale 2019 art festival, where an exhibit on freedom of expression that included a statue representing “comfort women” had sparked a harsh backlash including threats. On this, Abe’s only comment was: “That is a decision made by the culture agency.” All Edano, and we, wanted to know was what the prime minister’s thoughts were on the issue.
The list of perfunctory prime ministerial commentary continued, on the government’s initial response to the damage inflicted by Typhoon Faxai, about the consumption tax hike from 8 % to 10%, regarding Japan-U.S. trade negotiations, and so on, resulting in zero meaningful debate. If Abe does not reconsider his attitude, he risks making the Diet a hollow institution.
We also have a question for the CDP’s Edano: Why did he not make any direct mention of Abe’s moves to alter the Japanese Constitution? Edano may wish to argue that this is not a top priority at the moment, but then he should have said so clearly.
This is the first Diet session for the parliamentary alliance of opposition parties that emerged from the collapse of the Democratic Party of Japan. Failing to mention the constitutional amendment issue makes it appear that the alliance is dodging the subject to avoid highlighting internal cleavages on the matter.