Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with the president of the Science Council of Japan on Friday amid mounting criticism over the premier’s decision to block six scholars from joining the government advisory body.
Takaaki Kajita said they discussed “the future of the council” but Suga did not provide an explanation for why he refused to appoint the nominees last month.
Of the 105 scholars recommended as new members by the council, Suga did not name six that have been critical of security and anti-conspiracy legislation enacted under his predecessor Shinzo Abe.
The council is under the jurisdiction of the prime minister but works independently to make policy recommendations on behalf of the scientific community. It rotates out half of its 210 members every three years.
Many scholars have criticized Suga’s decision as an attack on academic freedom, with the council adopting a resolution urging the prime minister to provide an explanation.
Kajita, a Nobel physics laureate and professor at the University of Tokyo, told reporters after the 15-minute meeting that he had handed the resolution to Suga but they did not discuss its content in depth.
“We talked from a future-oriented standpoint about how the council can contribute to society at large and the government based on science,” Kajita said.
The rejected scholars are Ryuichi Ozawa of Jikei University School of Medicine, Shigeki Uno and Yoko Kato of the University of Tokyo, Sadamichi Ashina of Kyoto University, Takaaki Matsumiya of Ritsumeikan University and Masanori Okada of Waseda University.
Suga, who took office on Sept. 16, has maintained that he merely exercised his legal right to name the council’s members.
His administration and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have sought to shift the issue to whether the ¥1 billion ($9.5 million) that goes into running the council is a good use of taxpayers’ money.
Opposition parties are expected to press the administration on the refusal to appoint the scholars during the upcoming extraordinary Diet session, demanding that Kazuhiro Sugita, a top Suga aide believed to have been involved in the decision, appear for questioning.