Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday defended the new and controversial casino legalization bill as vital to increasing jobs and boosting Japan’s tourism industry amid a scathing attack from opposition leader Renho in their first party leaders’ debate.
Renho, clad in her signature white suit, launched a barrage of diatribes at Abe — covering everything from the casino bill to the prime minister’s ongoing struggle to revolutionize Japan’s long-hours work culture to his “failure” to empower female politicians.
This was the first time the two faced off in a debate at the Diet since Renho assumed the leadership of the Democratic Party in September.
The bill, designed to decriminalize casinos, was sent to an Upper House committee Wednesday after being fast-tracked through the Lower House by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai.
Renho, who is not known to mince words, went in full throttle throughout the 30-minute debate.
She fumed when Abe appeared to shirk his responsibility for the casino bill by saying it was not submitted by the government, but a cross-party group of lawmakers, including members from the DP.
Abe had said the bill was to become a “centerpiece” of his growth strategy when he inspected a casino facility in Singapore in 2014, Renho reminded him. This is clearly his “pet legislation,” she said.
“What is really problematic about the casino bill is that such an institution basically thrives on bets lost by gamblers, who will then get addicted to the thrill to the point where they will resort to borrowing money,” Renho said, adding that casinos are different from industries such as manufacturing in that they do not produce any added value.
“How could this possibly be a growth industry? I think it will debase Japan’s national dignity,” she said.
Abe, however, insisted that under the envisaged law, a casino will only constitute a small part — or about 3 percent of all floor space — of so-called integrated resorts (IRs), which incorporate a theme park, restaurant, aquarium and shopping mall. Even the IRs as a whole, he said, will be built in a so-called designated zone.
“So it’s not like the entire town will be overrun by casinos,” Abe said.
“Needless to say, these facilities will invite investment, which will go a long way toward creating jobs.”
Abe did not directly answer Renho’s question about how casinos can be turned into a sustainable growth industry.
“You know what? Your ability to dance around the truth is truly kamitteru (divine),” Renho said, using this year’s buzzword of Japan and provoking a burst of laughter from her fellow lawmakers.
The two also talked about the government’s ongoing effort to rectify Japan’s working culture that has long glorified overwork as proof of diligence.
Abe described the recent karoshi (death by overwork) of Matsuri Takahashi, who worked for ad giant Dentsu, as “infuriating,” renewing his vow to forge ahead with relevant reforms.
In what is believed to be an unprecedented initiative, the DP live-streamed Wednesday’s debate on YouTube with two of its lawmakers, Yuichiro Tamaki and Goshi Hosono, offering play-by-play commentary in a light-hearted approach.
“The thing about Prime Minister Abe is that he never misses an opportunity to tell off opposition lawmakers for jeering at his speech. It’s as if he’s trying to buy some time to think of what he’ll say next,” Tamaki noted after observing the debate.