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Editorial: Dysfunction in PM’s office in Japan a cause for concern

The draft budget for fiscal 2021 passed Japan’s House of Representatives on March 2. Spending to counter the coronavirus was included in the budget bill, and the opposition parties have not adopted tactics to delay its passage.


Nevertheless, many issues remain outstanding, and situations suggesting dysfunction within Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration have cropped up one after another.


The government’s response to the coronavirus was delayed as it became hung up on the “Go To” tourism and other subsidy campaigns. And it was only after coronavirus infections surged over the new year and prefectural governors pressed for the declaration of another state of emergency that the Suga administration issued one.


The “third wave” of coronavirus infections in Japan began in November last year, but the government wrapped up the extraordinary session of the Diet in early December. During the current Diet session, the administration abruptly submitted revisions to coronavirus-related laws that imposed penalties for noncompliance with administrative orders related to antivirus measures.


Amid such circumstances, it emerged that legislators of the ruling coalition had gone out late at night to clubs in Tokyo’s Ginza district — a fact exposing the administration’s lack of a sense of crisis.


Furthermore, when it emerged that senior officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications had been wined and dined by Prime Minister Suga’s eldest son and other figures from the broadcasting firm Tohokushinsha Film Corp., Suga responded in the Diet that his son had “a completely different personality” from his — as if it were somebody else’s problem. At the same time, the prime minister tried to retain then Cabinet Public Relations Secretary Makiko Yamada, whom he had appointed, though she was among those wined and dined by Suga’s son and others.


If he had understood the public’s distrust in politics, we would never have seen such a response.


To date, the prime minister has resorted to the political tactics of wielding authority over personnel affairs in controlling bureaucrats and Diet members. It is likely that his iron-fisted approach has shut out divergent opinions and created an atmosphere that makes it difficult to offer suggestions to him.


Of serious concern is the fact that there appears to be no one who can speak candidly to the prime minister at his office or within the ruling coalition.


Suga picked Katsunobu Kato, who had worked under him as deputy chief Cabinet secretary, to become chief Cabinet secretary, and for his own secretaries, he selected those who had aided him in his own days as chief Cabinet secretary. He has surrounded himself with figures who seldom voice objections.


While measures to combat the coronavirus have reached a crucial stage, the vaccination schedule is likely to be delayed further than was initially envisaged. Meanwhile, decisions must quickly be made regarding the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and other issues.


The prime minister needs to listen to the opinions of experts and carefully make decisions while addressing the public’s concerns. He should also look beyond his position to flexibly incorporate proposals from the opposition parties.


Authority is something that needs to be exercised with restraint. Prime Minister Suga should advance policies with public trust as a driving force. That will be the first step toward rebuilding the administration.

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