Policy speech overlooks key issues

An extraordinary Diet session started Tuesday to discuss important issues such as the leaks of contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the reconstruction of areas devastated by the 3/11 disasters and Japan’s strategy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.

The session began 3½ months after the regular Diet session ended. During this period, there has been no substantive discussion on urgent matters. It’s time for the government and the Diet to get serious about helping Japan overcome the problems that are having the biggest impact on people’s lives.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe devoted about one-third of his policy speech to his economic growth strategy, which he said is aimed at increasing employment and wages for “young people and women.” He said the effective ratio of job offers to applicants increased from 0.83 in late 2012 to 0.95 in August. But what he failed to do is mention the quality of employment. Businesses are adding irregular employees, whose wages are lower and who can be fired at any time. According to the internal affairs ministry, the number of irregularly employed workers hit a record 18.81 million in the April-June period, while the number of regular workers declined by 530,000 from the same period of 2012 to 33.17 million.

Regarding the nuclear disaster, Mr. Abe said that in general contamination of food and water with radioactive substances from the Fukushima plant measures much lower than safety standards require. Cases are being reported of fish being caught off Fukushima that exceed permissible contamination standards. Contaminated water continues to leak, but Mr. Abe failed to give a detailed outline on how the government plans to contain it. Regarding the fact that little progress is being made in efforts to decontaminate areas around the plant, Mr. Abe only said that he will accelerate cleanup efforts as well as restore infrastructure.

Mr. Abe stated that efforts to resettle 3/11 disasters victims in highland areas have entered a stage of acquiring land and preparing sites. But he failed to mention that his policy of pushing public works projects nationwide is draining workers and equipment from disaster areas, thus slowing reconstruction.

As for the TPP, Mr. Abe did not mention people’s worries about food safety, access to public health insurance and a lower national food self-sufficiency rate. He said only that he will take the initiative where necessary and defend what he must defend.

Mr. Abe stressed the importance of “proactive pacifism” as a way of contributing to world peace and stability. He neglected to mention his goal of allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense by changing the government’s traditional interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9. Nor did he mention his plan to submit a bill that will not only impose up to 10 years’ imprisonment for national public servants and up to five years’ imprisonment for Diet members who leak “special secrets” in the fields of security and diplomacy but also punish reporters who investigate such secrets. The bill will undermine two pillars of democracy: Freedom of the press and the people’s right to know.

Mr. Abe’s speech shows that he ignores issues that don’t mesh with his agenda, even if people are deeply concerned by them. If this continues, people will increasingly question his sincerity.