National / Politics

Opposition in Japan requests extra Diet session to debate virus response

Kyodo

The major opposition parties Friday stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to convene an extraordinary Diet session to address public confusion stemming from his government’s coronavirus response.

The opposition bloc is dissatisfied with Abe, who they say has not fulfilled his responsibility to explain recent policy decisions in his own words, including the government’s last-minute flip-flop over the Go To Travel initiative and efforts to help heavily damaged areas in the southwest recover fron torrential rain.

The four opposition parties submitted a formal request to Lower House speaker Tadamori Oshima on Friday to have a Diet session held in line with a constitutional provision.

“The government and the ruling coalition have not responded to our calls for the prime minister to engage in off-session parliamentary debates,” Yukio Edano, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters.

“They should convene the Diet as soon as possible,” he said. The CDP is the nation’s largest opposition party.

Article 53 of the Constitution states the Cabinet must decide to convene an extra Diet session when demanded but does not set a deadline.

The Abe administration didn’t heed such requests in 2015 and 2017, and it is viewed as reluctant to accept this time as well. The Diet’s 150-day regular session only ended in mid-June.

“We are in a national crisis. If the prime minister does not convene a parliamentary session, it will mean that he has abandoned the people of Japan,” Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters.

The opposition bloc also includes the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party.

The joint move by the opposition comes as the Abe administration is seeking to allow more economic and social activities to resume while keeping the spread of the virus in check.

The abrupt exclusion of trips to Tokyo and by its residents from the government’s Go To Travel subsidy program due to a surge in coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital sparked confusion among travelers and travel agencies earlier in the month.

The administration is also considering putting off its plan to distribute another 80 million reusable cloth face masks, which have proven unpopular in some quarters, to nursing care and other facilities as questions were raised about its necessity.

Opposition lawmakers are pointing to it as another example of the government being out of touch with the public after the distribution of “Abenomasks” to all households, a pun on the prime minister’s “Abenomics” economic program, was criticized for wasting taxpayers’ money and the quality of the masks was deemed poor.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Friday confirmed a single-day record of 463 novel coronavirus infections, with over 34,000 cases reported so far nationwide. The national tally includes the roughly 700 cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine off Yokohama in February.

The nationwide resurgence of coronavirus cases has raised public concern, but the government is steadily maintaining that there is no need to declare another state of emergency.

An extraordinary Diet session is expected to be held this fall, and some members speculate Abe will move to dissolve the House of Representatives to call a snap election. The current four-year term for Lower House members expires in October 2021.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga shot down such speculation on Thursday.

“It will be quite difficult,” Suga said while recording a TV program when asked about the possibility. “The public would want us to concentrate on (fighting) the coronavirus and preventing it from spreading further.”

Your news needs your support

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.

Coronavirus banner