Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe holds a news conference on Dec. 9 after the closing of the extraordinary Diet session. (Takeshi Iwashita)

During the past two months, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has avoided Diet debate on some important policy issues, showing little interest in fulfilling its responsibility to explain its policy decisions and actions to the public.

The Abe administration hit a new low in its disrespect for the legislature during the extraordinary Diet session, which ended on Dec. 9.

Opposition parties jointly submitted a motion to extend the session by 40 days for further investigation into issues concerning “Sakura wo miru kai,” an annual cherry blossom-viewing event hosted by the prime minister. But the motion was voted down due to opposition from the dominant ruling coalition.

Public trust in the fairness of the government is the foundation of policy development and execution. The allegations that Abe used a tax-financed event for his personal gain should not be left unclarified.

While he made some one-sided responses to some of the issues at occasions such as Diet plenary sessions, Abe did not agree to answer face-to-face questions from opposition parties in committee sessions.

Genjiro Kaneko, a lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who chairs the Upper House Budget Committee, proposed holding sessions on the matter without the attendance of Abe. But the ruling party even rejected this proposal. The Abe administration went to an extraordinary length to avoid Diet debate on the matter.

Overshadowed by the sakura party scandal, questions concerning the resignations of two key Cabinet members have been left in political limbo. Abe has yet to take any responsibility for appointing Isshu Sugawara and Katsuyuki Kawai as trade and justice minister, respectively, giving them their first Cabinet portfolios in a Cabinet reshuffle in early September.

They both resigned within two months after taking office amid allegations of election irregularities.

Sugawara stepped down on Oct. 25 over allegations that he gave gifts to voters in his electoral district in violation of the Public Offices Election Law, while Kawai bowed out on Oct. 31 amid allegations that his wife, a lawmaker, paid her election campaign staff double the legal limit.

They left office ahead of Diet sessions that were expected to focus on the allegations against them. As they quit their Cabinet jobs, both lawmakers pledged to fulfill their responsibility to clear up the allegations. But they have yet to deliver on their promises more than one month later.

There have been no signs, either, that Abe or the LDP leadership has urged the politicians to keep their promises.

The Abe administration has also shown a habit of stonewalling on submitting inconvenient information to the Diet. Japan’s new trade agreement with the United States was at the top of the agenda for the autumn Diet session.

But the administration declined to offer some vital information for the Diet’s debate and decision on the trade pact demanded by opposition parties, including the government’s estimates of its economic benefits.

The government clearly put a top priority on ensuring that the agreement will take effect on Jan. 1, as demanded by the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump.

The whole year should be remembered by the Abe administration’s high-handed way of responding to questions and requests from the Diet.

During the regular Diet session, which started in January, the administration refused to convene Budget Committee sessions, which are the main arena for debate on key policy issues and also for efforts to monitor the government, after the fiscal 2019 budget was passed.

The administration also ignored opposition demand for a Budget Committee session based on the rules concerning Diet affairs.

It was obvious that the administration was trying to avoid all risks of making a political blunder that could affect the LDP’s showing in the July Upper House election.

Even after the Upper House poll, the administration did not respond to an opposition demand for an early extraordinary session. A session for face-to-face debates on the Diet floor between party heads was held only once this year, in June.

Abe may be betting that the series of scandals will be forgotten while the Diet is in recess until after the beginning of the new year.

But it should be noted that the government’s refusal to explain its policy decisions and actions to the public only spells the collapse of the foundation of democracy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 10