National

Japan government shelves contentious prosecutor bill

Kyodo, Jiji

The government and ruling coalition decided Monday not to pursue passage of a bill this Diet session that would extend the retirement age of prosecutors, giving in to harsh public criticism that included celebrities taking to Twitter to express their opposition.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, reached the agreement amid calls for the resignation of Hiromu Kurokawa, who was permitted to remain as chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor's Office after he turned 63. Kurokawa is widely believed to be favored by the Prime Minister's Office.

Abe and Nikai affirmed that the government could not move forward with the proposed change to the law without the understanding of the public.

Senior officials said there was growing concern in the government that steamrolling the bill through the Diet could cause significant damage to the administration, as many believe Abe should be concentrating on containing the novel coronavirus.

The government aims to handle the amendment during an extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the fall after the current session ends on June 17, sources said.

The revision is part of a change aimed at raising the retirement age for national public servants. While setting the retirement age for prosecutors in executive posts, the proposed revision includes a provision that would allow the Cabinet to approve tenure extensions for senior prosecutors, including the prosecutor general, at its discretion.

Opposition parties claim the amendment could lead to arbitrary personnel decisions by the government. They are also accusing the government of attempting to retroactively justify an unprecedented Cabinet decision in late January to extend Kurokawa's tenure.

The decision to forgo the early passage of the bill comes after members of the public spoke out against it. Celebrities such as theater director Amon Miyamoto have voiced opposition to the bill on Twitter, while retired prosecutors, including former Prosecutor General Kunihiro Matsuo, have written to the government arguing that the revision would "reduce the power of prosecutors."

Upcoming Diet discussions on a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2020, which includes additional financial measures against the COVID-19 crisis, is seen as another factor prompting the government to abandon the bill's early enactment.

"It is not good for the relationship between the ruling and opposition parties to be rocky at a time like this," a government source said.

The Abe administration initially sought to hold a vote on the bill during a meeting of the Cabinet Committee in the House of Representatives last Friday. However, the plan was pushed back after opposition lawmakers submitted a motion of no confidence against national civil service reform minister Ryota Takeda, responsible for the package of legislation.

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