Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe at a Lower House plenary session on Jan. 30 (Takeshi Iwashita)

Opposition leaders criticized the government over a scandal concerning the labor ministry’s faulty wage statistics on Jan. 30 as they started asking questions about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy speech that kicked off the regular Diet session two days earlier.

Both Yukio Edano, the head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), and Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), focused on the scandal in their verbal attacks on the Abe administration. It has been revealed that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare used an inappropriate method of collecting key labor data in monthly surveys used to calculate amounts paid out to workers for unemployment and worker's compensation benefits.

Edano said the foundation of Japan as a nation has been “shaken” by the revelations. Tamaki denounced the ministry’s practice as an attempt to make wage growth look greater than it actually was in order to embellish the effects of Abenomics, Abe’s pro-growth economic policy program.

The two opposition party chiefs called for the resignation of labor minister Takumi Nemoto.

Last year, the government was struck by a raft of scandals including the Finance Ministry’s falsifications of official documents. Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima issued an unusual statement calling on the legislature to “do serious soul-searching” on its performance as the watchdog of the government’s actions.

The latest scandal raises fresh and serious questions about the Diet’s ability to monitor and check the government since it concerns long years of sloppy handling of government statistics used as a basis for important policy decisions.

The investigation into the problem by a special inspection committee set up by the labor ministry has done little to clarify issues since it was carried out in haste and in a way that has cast serious doubt on the independence of the panel and the credibility of the findings.

This makes it all the more important for the Diet to play the leading role in ensuring the effective pursuit of the truth and the implementation of measures to prevent a recurrence.

The ruling and opposition parties should be equally committed to performing this mission.

Toshiaki Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, referred to the scandal at the end of his speech to pose questions to Abe’s policy speech and asked, perfunctorily, the prime minister about his commitment to tackling the problem. There is no denying that Nikai’s remarks lacked a punch.

Speeches to pose questions about the prime minister’s policy agenda offer great opportunities for opposition leaders to announce their parties’ basic policy principles and visions.

In explaining the CDP’s vision for Japanese society at the outset of his speech, Edano mentioned “mutual support” and “diversity” as the two core concepts of the opposition party’s political agenda.

Edano argued that enhancing a system to provide support to people facing difficulties through mutual aid among members of society, instead of stressing competition and individual responsibility, would revitalize Japan’s society and economy by boosting the sense of security among people.

The CDP chief also maintained that diversity, which he characterizes as a key source of creative and original added values, should serve as the principal driving force of Japan’s efforts to secure a better future for itself as a member of the international community.

Tamaki cited “harmonious coexistence” as the most important concept for the DPP’s policy platform. He cast the DPP as a “reform-oriented centrist party” striving to become a force for consensus by remaining open to diverse values.

Despite many shared values and common policy principles, however, the two parties are locked in a bitter political battle to become the largest opposition bloc in the Upper House. Their talks to field common candidates in Upper House constituencies where only one seat is contested in elections are getting nowhere.

It is glaringly obvious that cooperation among opposition parties in both Diet operations and elections is vital for putting effective political pressure on the dominant ruling coalition.

Opposition parties cannot afford to spend time jockeying for leadership or fighting each other.

If the ruling camp cannot be expected to act as a watchdog with teeth to monitor and check the government, a solid alliance among like-minded opposition parties is the only possible path to a healthy, functional Diet.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 31