Photo/Illutration Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a policy speech in the Upper House on Jan. 17. (Koichiro Ueda)

Public opinion remains divided over the government’s decision to hold a state funeral for slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

We have argued in our editorials that this rare form of mourning a politician’s death could exacerbate rifts in society and hinder unbiased reviews about a person’s legacy.

Having decided a state funeral is appropriate, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should offer convincing answers to questions about the planned event during the extraordinary Diet session to be convened next week. A sense of public discomfort over the arrangement will only grow if Kishida fails to fulfill his responsibility to explain this policy decision and allows the session to wind up after only three days.

An extraordinary Diet session is held immediately after an Upper House election to choose the new president and the vice president of the chamber, as well as the chairpersons of standing committees. Usually, the session lasts only several days and the prime minister does not take the floor to answer questions.

The ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party plans to follow precedent and has proposed a three-day session to the opposition camp. In line with a parliamentary tradition concerning the death of an incumbent Diet member, memorial addresses for Abe will be delivered in a Lower House plenary session. But the ruling camp has no intention of responding to doubts about whether Abe merits a state funeral.

A prewar state funeral ordinance was scrapped decades ago and currently there is no law to govern state funerals. It has become customary for the government and the LDP to hold a joint funeral when a former prime minister dies. The only state funeral held for a politician in the postwar period was for former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967) more than a half century ago.

It is hardly surprising that some Japanese have questioned the special treatment being accorded to Abe, given that his policies were subject to fierce debate and there are still unanswered questions about a series of political sandals that dogged him while he was in office as well as after he resigned for health reasons.

The scandals concern two educational institutions which had direct or indirect ties with the late prime minister and cherry blossom viewing parties he hosted.

But Toshimitsu Motegi, the LDP secretary-general, has stated that he does not accept there are any doubters among the public over the state funeral plan and contended the opposition parties’ argument against the event is “divorced” from public opinion. Motegi’s remarks are a strong indication that the administration is trying to use the state funeral to bolster assessments of Abe’s political achievements.

During the state funeral for Yoshida, sirens and announcements to call for a moment of silence were heard across the nation. Many government organizations and schools closed for the afternoon. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said that members of the public will not be asked to observe the mourning for Abe. Kishida needs to articulate this policy so people do not feel they should mourn Abe simply out of peer pressure.

There is another urgent issue that needs to be addressed during the Diet session: how to respond to the explosion of COVID-19 cases in the seventh wave of the crisis that is sweeping through Japan.

The government’s policy of not seeking new curbs on activities is understandable. But this policy makes sense only if each individual take precautions to prevent infection. Experts point out that the government’s stance has been taken by people as a message that they need not make any radical changes to their behavior.

Travel and contacts between people will inevitably increase during the summer break and Bon festival in mid-August, increasing the risk of a further expansion of infections. It is important for policymakers to answer questions on this that are bound to arise in the Diet to ensure the public is fully aware of the seriousness of the latest development in the pandemic.

The Kishida administration is obliged to secure whatever time is needed for the extraordinary Diet session, as demanded by the opposition parties, to tackle these important issues with sincerity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28