December 9, 2021 at 14:22 JST
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida crosses his arms as he listens to Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Kenta Izumi, foreground, at the Lower House plenary session on Dec. 8. (The Asahi Shimbun)
Proposing policies is an important function of opposition parties. But this must never supplant their primary role, which is to keep the administration in check.
The administration, on the other hand, has a duty to fully live up to its accountability and have the flexibility to acknowledge alternative proposals put forward by opposition parties.
Both the ruling and opposition camps share the heavy responsibility of rebuilding the Diet, dubbed “the citadel of discourse."
In response to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s policy speech, representatives of opposition parties began the process of peppering him with questions in the Lower House on Dec. 8.
The session was led off by Kenta Izumi and Chinami Nishimura, respectively the leader and secretary-general of the newly-rejuvenated Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Under the new brand image of a “policy-making party,” Izumi vowed that the CDP will resolve various pending issues by utilizing “public assistance,” seeking “decentralization/ diffusion” and respecting “freedom and diversity.” There were 17 items on his policy agenda, including pandemic response and economic measures.
Nishimura began her presentation by vowing “never to condone unreasonableness,” citing the case of a Sri Lankan woman who died of an illness while being held in a detention facility operated by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. Nishimura called for a third-party probe.
She also took issue with the prime minister’s reluctance to legalize same-sex marriages and allow separate surnames for married couples who so wish, and went on to demand that the government participate in a conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an observer and review the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko in Okinawa Prefecture.
We presume the CDP employed this “Izumi-Nishimura tag team” approach to counter its public image as a “party that only knows to criticize.”
However, neither Izumi nor Nishimura made any mention of the party’s campaign pledge for the Lower House election in October--namely, to get to the bottom of the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Moritomo, Kake and cherry blossom viewing party scandals--as well as challenge the previous administration’s decision to block six scholars from membership to the Science Council of Japan.
Those issues did enormous damage to the way Japan functions as a democracy. As such, they should not be swept under the carpet, even though the LDP has since elected a new leader and obtained a new mandate from voters in the Lower House election.
Kishida claims to believe in “being polite and thorough” when explaining something. So how did he do in his first Q&A as prime minister?
He certainly came across as much more decent than Abe and Yoshihide Suga, in that there was none of their habitually evasive, curt or sneakily patronizing boilerplate responses.
However, Kishida frequently referred to his past statements on various issues and earmarked others for future discussion. In our view, he was far from capable of engaging in-depth policy debate.
With regard to a planned 100,000-yen ($880) handout to households with young children, Kishida promised to make the full amount available in cash according to local needs, while still maintaining the principle of providing half of the amount in coupons. But he remained non-committal to a proposal for a lumpsum payment, stating only that he would first consult with local governments on setting the criterion for cash handouts.
As for ensuring there is greater transparency in the movement of political funds, he did not demonstrate any interest in asserting leadership on this issue.
The opposition parties have proposed legislation that would require Diet members to disclose itemized expense reports of their outgoing mail, communication, transportation and accommodation allowances, for which they receive 1 million yen every month.
This bill will move closer to legislation with the ruling party’s support. But Kishida noted that every party must keep striving for it, as if this was someone else’s business.
Kishida needs to understand that voters will be questioning his definition of “polite and thorough” explanation.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 9
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