National / Politics

Japan's parliament ends coronavirus-dominated session without extension

Kyodo

The Diet wrapped up a 150-day session Wednesday after the ruling coalition rejected calls from the opposition for an extension to the year’s end to cope with the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

The ruling and opposition parties instead settled on a compromise plan to hold committee sessions to discuss the coronavirus response while parliament is in recess. As a result, the opposition bloc did not, as per their custom, submit a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The end of the session came after Japan emerged from a nationwide state of emergency Abe declared to fight the spread of the coronavirus. But the Japanese leader’s handling of the epidemic and a series of scandals have sharply weakened public support.

Opposition parties had demanded that the parliamentary session be extended until Dec. 28 as many questions are left unanswered.

Opposition party lawmakers are urging the government to give further explanations as to why it suddenly suspended a plan to deploy Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense systems designed to counter ballistic missile threats from North Korea.

“If requested, the government will fulfill accountability even during a parliamentary recess,” Abe told reporters at his office.

The government on Monday announced the suspension of the missile plan that had been fervently pushed by Abe, citing technical and cost issues.

“The government will evade its responsibility to explain if the Diet session is closed,” Jun Azumi, the Diet affairs chief of the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said.

The session began on Jan. 20 when Japan had yet to register a domestic transmission of the coronavirus. As the virus spread, parliament passed two extra budgets totaling about ¥57.5 trillion ($536 billion) for the current fiscal year to help fund an emergency package to help alleviate the negative impact on households and businesses.

Abe rolled out a plan to distribute reusable cloth face masks to all households, but they proved unpopular for their small size and slow delivery. He also made an about-face in accepting a ¥100,000 per-person cash handout plan pushed by Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Besides the coronavirus epidemic, a controversial bill to raise the retirement age for top prosecutors came under intense scrutiny, drawing widespread criticism from celebrities to former top prosecutors that the move would put the independence of the judiciary system at risk.

The government and ruling coalition originally decided to seek its passage. But it scrapped the idea later with an eye to submitting a fresh one without a controversial provision that would allow the Cabinet to keep certain high-ranking prosecutors longer at its discretion.

In May, Hiromu Kurokawa — the then No. 2 prosecutor in Japan who was seen as a favorite by the prime minister’s office to become the prosecutor general — resigned after admitting that he had played mahjong for money, dealing a blow to Abe whose cabinet had approved his retirement extension.

Just as the Diet session drew to a close, former Justice Minister Katsuyuki Kawai and his wife Anri on Wednesday offered to leave the LDP led by Abe amid vote-buying allegations that they both have denied.

Lower House member Katsuyuki Kawai, a special advisor to Abe on foreign affairs, stepped down as justice minister last year. Anri Kawai won her seat in the Upper House election last July. The couple are alleged to have handed out cash to buy votes during campaigning.

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