BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER
Constitutional Democratic Party President Kenta Izumi made his parliamentary debut as party leader Wednesday, questioning Prime Minister Fumio Kishida over issues ranging from the government’s coronavirus response to constitutional revision.
It was the first time since Izumi, 47, was elected CDP president last month that the leaders of the government and the largest opposition party had faced off against each other, and the exchange was remarkably cordial and free of rhetorical fireworks.
Izumi and the 64-year-old Kishida, as well as 67-year-old Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii, share the same birthday, June 29, and Izumi said that while he felt a strange kinship with the leaders of the other parties, his CDP will hold the government to account — even while recognizing that the party has often been criticized for doing little more than opposing the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“We will continue to monitor the ruling party,” he said.
Izumi generally followed up on his questions for Kishida with proposals — 17 in all, the new leader said — for dealing with the issues he raised.
For example, he asked Kishida about the confusion that ensued on Nov. 29 after the transport ministry asked airlines to suspend new bookings for flights to Japan and then withdrew the request. The prime minister had called a noon meeting that day with the transport minister and other members of the Cabinet.
Izumi then offered a suggestion regarding the improvement of quarantine measures for people entering Japan.
“Currently the government divides the quarantine periods (in designated facilities) into 10 days, six days and three days, according to the point of departure. However, considering the global spread of the infection, should the quarantine period be 10 days for everyone?”
Kishida replied that the topic of suspending bookings of new flights to Japan did not come up at the Nov. 29 meeting, and that there would be no change to the current quarantine periods in designated facilities.
“Given the related risks with the omicron variant, the current policy is appropriate,” he said in response.
On coronavirus-related economic issues, Izumi called for a ¥100,000 payout for those under 18 to be rethought. Currently, half of the amount comes in cash and half in coupons.
“Our party has estimated that administrative costs to local municipalities in charge of the coupon payments would be ¥96.7 billion,” he said, suggesting the government allow the municipalities to choose single cash payments instead of the cash-coupon combination.
Here, Kishida indicated there is room for compromise.
“We’ll take a look at specific methods for distribution, while listening to the opinions of local governments as to when cash benefits can be provided,” he said.
But on constitutional revision, the CDP and the ruling party continue to remain apart. Izumi said that while Kishida has said there is a need to earnestly address the matter of what the Constitution should look like, the CDP’s position is that the current supreme law protects the freedoms and rights of the people and has contributed greatly to preserving peace in Japan.
Kishida replied by repeating comments made during his policy speech Monday, saying that parliament needs to foster a national debate on whether the current Constitution is appropriate for the current, changing times.
Later Tuesday, CDP Secretary-General Chinami Nishimura also grilled the prime minister, touching on the case of the Sri Lankan woman Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali, who died in March while being detained at a Nagoya immigration center. The family has filed a criminal complaint against senior officials at the facility, accusing them of causing her death by failing to provide appropriate medical care.
Calling her death a symbol of Japanese society’s “inexcusable” nature, Nishimura said that Wishma’s bereaved family sent a letter to Kishida in October asking for an investigation into the incident and for the provision of the video footage of her death.
“But it seems that they have not yet received a reply,” Nishimura asked.
Kishida revealed that he’d received the letter, and that it was his understanding the family had already been shown a portion of the video.
“I’ve taken the bereaved family’s feelings to heart,” he said.