Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions from members of opposition parties at an Upper House plenary session on Jan. 23. (Takeshi Iwashita)

Listening to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe field questions from opposition party members during the Jan. 22 and 23 Diet sessions, I was underwhelmed by his boilerplate answers.

Simply put, Abe dodged inconvenient questions, such as those concerning his controversial cherry blossom viewing parties and scandals surrounding the government's casino resort development programs.

Instead, he responded with his array of go-to phrases that are designed to get himself off the hook by obfuscation and misdirection.

"Shinshi ni hansei" (I have examined my conscience seriously) is one. Also well-familiar is "seijitsu ni taio" (I will handle this with the utmost sincerity).

Another phrase Abe uses frequently is "kano na kagiri setsumei shitekita," which translates as "I have explained this as far as possible." But what he deems "far enough" is anything but, if you ask me.

But when responding to questions about constitutional revision, Abe waxes eloquent. However, he prefaces his response with the disclaimer that he would like to refrain from commenting in his capacity as the prime minister--except, he immediately adds, "That being said," and launches full bore into a presentation of his own views.

I can see what a convenient cop-out phrase "that being said" is.

For example, if you have to chastise someone but want to soften the blow, you say, "I have no intention of chastising you. That being said ...."

You could also brag about yourself to your heart's content and still try to come across as meek and mild by mumbling, "I'm not a bragger. That being said ..."

I was actually thinking these things while listening to Abe's responses in the Diet. That's how boring the sessions were.

But my drowsiness lifted for a while when Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the Democratic Party for the People, took the floor.

Questioning the appropriateness of inviting Chinese President Xi Jinping to Japan as a state guest, Tamaki referred to the unrest in Hong Kong and argued that the invitation could "send a wrong message to the global community."

Tamaki also proposed tax cuts for people in their 20s, designed specifically to bring them financial relief.

As an opposition lawmaker, Tamaki had the luxury of being able to feel "carefree" enough to propose such tax cuts. However, it was quite evident that he was struggling to establish some specific policy platform for his party.

With Abe's tenure expiring in autumn next year, his administration may turn into a lame duck in its final months. And normally, it should become apparent around now who the potential next-generation political leaders will be and what sort of policies they intend to pursue in their own administration.

I fervently wish to see the current regular session of the Diet focus fully on digging into the scandals as well as formulating policies.

And I urge all lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party to say and do what they really believe in, without kowtowing to their current boss in the Abe administration.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.