Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration made a controversial decision last month to reject six scholars from a government advisory body out of concern they could spawn a movement of criticism against his government, government sources said Saturday, contradicting his earlier explanations.
The administration thought “it was not appropriate to hire them as civil servants” based on their past opposition to his Liberal Democratic Party’s security and anti-conspiracy legislation, which they expressed vocally, including in the Diet, the sources said.
The prime minister denied in a session of the Diet that such opposition was a reason for rejecting the six nominees among the 105 scholars recommended by the Science Council of Japan.
He said the members must be picked while keeping in mind they are public servants with special roles, and thus must “behave in a balanced manner based on wide perspectives.”
But Suga has not provided a detailed explanation in the face of backlash from the scientific community and opposition parties, stating he would “not comment on individual personnel processes.”
His approval ratings have dropped in the wake of the decision and controversy.
Opposition parties and some academics have perceived the decision as politically motivated and as an attack on the council’s independence, since the blocked nominees were critical of the security legislation adopted by his predecessor Shinzo Abe.
The administration was concerned that the six nominees may use the council as a platform to take similar initiatives against future legislation, the sources said.
The council falls under the prime minister’s jurisdiction and makes independent policy recommendations on the scientific community’s behalf.
No nominee recommended by the council had been turned down by a prime minister since 2004, when the current system of member appointments was adopted. It rotates out half of its 210 members every three years.
The 99 newly admitted council members include some critical of the previous Abe administration but their activities were limited to expressing opinions as an individual, such as signing petitions, and not enough to warrant much cause for concern for Suga, according to the sources.
The academics blocked from joining the council include Takaaki Matsumiya of Ritsumeikan University who told the Upper House’s Judicial Affairs Committee in 2017 that the anti-conspiracy law would be Japan’s “worst postwar public order legislation.”
Another rejected nominee, Ryuichi Ozawa of Jikei University School of Medicine, called for scrapping the new security legislation at a Diet committee hearing in 2015, amid public debate over its constitutionality under the war-renouncing Constitution.
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