National / Politics

Rookie ministers a source of concern for Abe at special Diet session

JIJI

Some of the 13 rookie ministers in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new Cabinet are a source of concern for the administration at the upcoming extraordinary Diet session, according to political pundits.

The 13 people landed their first ministerial posts in the Cabinet reshuffle carried out by the prime minister on Sept. 11. Some may be considered easy targets for opposition parties during Diet debates when the special session kicks off Oct. 4, given questionable or inadequate remarks they have made in the past.

The ruling coalition, led by Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, therefore plans to limit the number of government-sponsored bills to be submitted to the Diet session to about 15, and that number could be shaved further, sources said.

The lowest number of bills presented to a major extraordinary legislative session since Abe launched his current administration in late 2012 was 13, at last year’s extra session, which ran for 48 days from late October to early December.

This will be the first session since the Cabinet shake-up and the first for full-fledged debate between the ruling and opposition camps since the Upper House election July 21. It is expected to run until early December.

Of the government bills expected to be submitted, the outlook is murky for an amendment to the national strategic special zone law for creating “super cities,” in which artificial intelligence and other state-of-the-art technologies would be utilized.

The government submitted a similar bill during this year’s regular Diet session that ended in June. It was scrapped due to insufficient coordination within the ruling bloc of the LDP and Komeito.

A government official expressed concern that regional revitalization minister Seigo Kitamura, one of the 13 rookie ministers and the person in charge of the legislation, “may be unable to sufficiently respond” to questions from the opposition camp.

Kitamura failed to properly answer questions from reporters about regional revitalization policies at his inaugural news conference Sept. 11.

The opposition may grill new education minister Koichi Hagiuda, one of the closest aides to Abe, over a favoritism scandal related to school operator Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by a friend of the prime minister. Hagiuda is responsible for a planned government bill to revise the special law on teachers’ salaries.

Other government bills will include one seeking ratification of a proposed trade pact between Japan and the United States, which is expected to be signed by Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump at their meeting in New York on Wednesday.

Apart from government-sponsored legislation, ruling and opposition lawmakers are expected to submit a joint bill to amend the law on damages payments to former leprosy patients subjected to the government’s quarantine policy, so that their relatives can receive compensation as well.

Potentially contentious issues will include social security reform.

The Diet schedule is bound to be tight partly because of Abe’s planned overseas trips.

He is scheduled to travel to Thailand in late October for a series of meetings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and to Chile in mid-November to take part in a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

In addition, events related to Emperor Naruhito, who ascended to the throne May 1, are slated for late October, including Sokuirei Seiden no Gi, a ceremony for the new emperor to proclaim his enthronement at home and abroad.

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