The Diet convened for a 16-day extraordinary session Dec. 6, setting the stage for the first full-blown debate since Prime Minister Fumio Kishida won a public mandate in the Oct. 31 Lower House election.
The Diet members should make it a starting point for rebuilding the Diet’s function as the “citadel of discourse,” which was seriously undermined during the Abe and Suga administrations.
Kishida can contribute to this process by delivering on his pledge of “careful and tolerant politics.”
At the outset of his Dec. 6 policy speech, Kishida outlined his strategy for tackling the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He promised to accelerate the rollout schedule for the vaccine booster program “as much as possible.”
Referring to his decision to bar foreign nationals from entering Japan as a precaution against the new Omicron variant, Kishida said he will shoulder whatever blames it brings.
However, he did not touch on the lightning retraction of a government request to airlines to stop accepting reservations for international flights to Japan.
Even though the request was based on a decision made by transport ministry bureaucrats, Kishida is duty-bound to provide a detailed explanation about how this flip-flop came about.
Kishida also failed to offer a clear picture of his signature “new capitalism” initiative.
He cited accelerated technological innovation and digitalization as ways to stoke economic growth and enhanced tax incentives for companies raising wages to promote wealth distribution. But many of the policies are hardly entirely new initiatives.
Kishida fell short of presenting a new economic model that measures up to expectations raised by his pledge to have Japan lead the world.
He advocated foreign and security polices “closely aligned with the people.” This new slogan did not appear in his first policy speech after he became prime minister two months ago.
Kishida is absolutely correct in thinking that public understanding and support is vital for this policy area.
This is why he should reconsider the government stance of forging ahead with moves to build a new U.S. military facility in the Henoko district of Nago, a city in Okinawa Prefecture, to take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.
Residents of the prefecture have repeatedly expressed their fierce opposition to the plan in elections and through a prefectural referendum.
Kishida again made no mention of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Although he said Japan will play an active role to help ensure a successful outcome of the 10th review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in January, Japan should be participating in the first meeting of state parties to the nuclear ban treaty in March as a first step in working toward the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
Lastly, Kishida talked about amending the Constitution.
He called on lawmakers to engage in spirited debate on the Diet floor and promote a broad public discussion on the issue.
But he should not forget the mistakes made by Shinzo Abe. Abe undermined the environment for level-headed debate with his relentless push for changing the Constitution, which bred distrust and spurred a backlash from the opposition camp.
After the ordinary Diet session wound up in June, the Suga administration rejected an opposition demand to convene an extraordinary session, something the parties were constitutionally empowered to do, even as the nation was battling the COVID-19 crisis.
The first extraordinary session after Kishida took office ended without a Budget Committee session being held. This was because Kishida rushed to dissolve the Lower House for an election.
Kishida’s Dec. 6 policy speech was longer than the corresponding addresses delivered by Abe or Suga. But that does not necessarily mean it was carefully worded.
To deliver on his promise to offer careful, scrupulous explanations of his policies, Kishida needs to give clear and straightforward answers to tough questions from opposition lawmakers in the coming weeks.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7