Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga moved to ensure his re-election as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party through unseemly political maneuvering involving a party leadership reshuffle and a snap Lower House election, and has even gone so far as to reject an opposition demand for an extraordinary Diet session based on a constitutional provision.
Suga’s desperate move to cling to power belies his pledge to put top policy priority on responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic. His attempt to manipulate the political schedule to bolster his chances of remaining in office will only serve to further erode public trust in politics.
Even though the number of new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo is now declining, the outlook of the latest nationwide surge remains murky. Cases of seriously ill COVID-19 patients across the nation remain at record levels while health care system struggles to contain the health crisis. A number of people have died while trying to recover from the disease at home.
Despite this dire situation, the Diet has remained in recess for two and a half months since this year’s regular session ended in June.
Granted, some Diet committee sessions have been held with limited time for deliberations, but they were basically exceptional Diet activities during a recess that are not attended by the prime minister.
Suga has done all he can to avoid speaking at the Diet. He even got his ministers to perform the important task of explaining pandemic-related policy decisions, such as declarations of states of emergency, to the Diet.
The government could have responded far better to the latest wave of infections by taking legislative steps to enhance the nation’s ability to handle the crisis through effective budget appropriations and new laws. The Suga administration deserves to be severely criticized for missing out on such opportunities simply because it refused to convene a Diet session.
Article 53 of the Constitution mandates the Cabinet to convene an extraordinary Diet session when “a quarter or more of the total members of either House” demands one. Four opposition parties, taking advantage of this provision, demanded an extraordinary Diet session in July. But the Cabinet has done nothing for a month and a half. This represents an unacceptable failure to fulfill a constitutional obligation.
In ruling on constitutional lawsuits filed over the failure of the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to respond to a similar opposition demand for an extraordinary Diet session four years ago, the Naha and Okayama district courts found that such inaction could be judged to be unconstitutional depending on the circumstances.
Their rulings pointed out that the Cabinet has a legal obligation to act on such demands within a reasonable timeframe. The argument made by the courts should not be forgotten.
Given the short time remaining for the term of Lower House members, an extraordinary Diet session, if it is held now, would inevitably be a short one.
Even so, the ruling and opposition parties would be able to work together to tackle key pandemic-related challenges such as the urgent need to increase the number of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
Fumio Kishida, a former foreign minister and LDP policy chief who announced his candidacy for the scheduled LDP leadership election, said the party race should not be used as a pretext to withhold convening a Diet session. He argues that a Diet session ought to be held if necessary. His contention calls into question the way Suga has failed to respond to demands for a Diet session.
But Suga seems to be preoccupied with trying to find a way to secure his re-election as head of the LDP. Although he has denied plotting to dissolve the Lower House for a snap poll in September to delay the party presidential election, Suga is reportedly planning to reshuffle the party leadership by replacing the top four officials, including long-serving Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai.
There is no sense in an LDP president whose term is due to expire soon to undertake such a major leadership reshuffle. More than anything else, Suga does not appear to realize that he is the one facing a harsh voter verdict.
Suga’s maneuvering is nothing but a self-serving political ploy aimed solely at saving his political skin.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 2