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Can a prime minister with a poor vocabulary survive Diet interpellations?

  • November 6, 2020
  • , Shukan Asahi , p. 26-27
  • JMH Translation

Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba’s announcement of his resignation as chair of his faction means Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has absolute control over the LDP. His next step is to face opposition parties in the extraordinary session of the Diet, which will open on Oct. 26.


Little is known about Suga’s ability to handle Diet interpellations. Except for the day he took office in September, Suga has held only one press conference since becoming prime minister, and that was in Indonesia on Oct. 21, during his first overseas trip. Instead of press conferences, Suga has given “group interviews” to limited numbers of journalists. It appears that he is trying to avoid being asked questions.


Behind Suga’s reluctance is his poor vocabulary, according to a source who is well-versed in local politics in Akita, Suga’s home prefecture.


“Like many people from Akita, he is not a talkative type. He is quiet and shy and not a someone who talks easily. That’s the part of his character that people like. I expect the opposition parties will adopt the tactic of throwing questions at him and attacking him until he fumbles and fails to make sense.”


The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) eagerly awaits Suga at the Diet. The CDPJ is the largest opposition party, claiming 150 members in the two chambers. Because of its large membership, the party will be allocated a considerable amount of time and have plenty of opportunities to grill the new prime minister on various issues. They are likely to include the Suga administration’s rejection of six nominees to the Science Council of Japan (SCJ).


Lower House CDPJ member Hiroshi Kawauchi said: “As Chief Cabinet Secretary, Suga could reply, ‘what you said is not accurate,’ but this won’t work for a prime minister at Diet deliberations. Suga will be pushed very hard for an answer and will find himself in a corner. I foresee no problem if he answers honestly and truthfully. But if he were to lie, it would probably show.”


The biggest challenge awaiting Suga at the Diet is the SCJ controversy. During a group interview with the press, Suga said that he had not seen the list of nominees [before rejecting six of them]. That point will be raised. Lower House CDPJ member Jun Azumi, who is also chairman of the CDPJ Diet Affairs Committee, says, “If he hadn’t seen the list, it would mean he relied on bureaucrats to make this important decision, but if he had indeed seen the list, then it would mean that he lied. I intend to ask for an explanation from Suga at a budget committee meeting.”


There are also objections about the Go To Travel and Go To Eat campaigns, which are designed to address the negative impact of COVID-19 on the economy.


Azumi said: “Those with money can take advantage of the programs and take trips repeatedly, but those without means will continue to struggle to survive. We must make sure that the system doesn’t only benefit a small number of people. We also have to ask how long the government plans to provide Go To subsidies. It will be an enormous burden on the nation if it keeps going on next year and the year after. Now is the time to start a serious discussion.”


CDPJ’s Kawauchi is concerned about the more than 600 billion yen that is to be taken from the discretionary budget and spent on overseas vaccines. “The novel coronavirus is transforming rapidly, and the vaccines’ efficacy and safety are hard to determine. As for the vaccines’ possible adverse effects, the government, not manufacturers, would compensate, indicating that some adverse effects are expected. Rather than focusing on the vaccines, we should bring down the price of PCR testing and simplify the testing process. We will pose these questions and invite the prime minister to join the discussion.” The Diet merits close monitoring.

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