The successful push by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito to extend the Diet session by 12 days to July 5 appears to represent a partisan move to change the political situation in the coalition’s favor. This is the ninth extension of a regular Diet session held before a scheduled Upper House election in the postwar years. But of the six pre-Upper House election regular Diet sessions in the past 20 years, only two have been extended — in 1989 and 1998.
The Diet session extension will affect local governments that had been preparing for an Upper House election on July 22. With the voting date postponed to July 29, they now must change their plans related to securing places and personnel for voting and vote counting, and setting up notice boards for posters.
The ruling coalition apparently aims to weaken the political impact of the Social Insurance Agency’s mishandling of more than 50 million pension premium payment records. The pension issue caused the approval rating of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet to drop to a record low 35.8 percent in early June, according to a Kyodo News poll.
The ruling coalition would like to give voters the impression that it has fulfilled its obligations in passing key bills through the Diet. The bills in question are to abolish the Social Insurance Agency, scrap the five-year time limit on pension claims, reform the Political Funds Control Law and set up a system for regulating the future employment of retiring national public servants.
In particular, Mr. Abe’s determination to pass the bill on employment of retiring national civil service workers is believed to have led the coalition to seek the extension of the Diet session. Still, the bill’s effectiveness in ending a cozy relationship between the bureaucracy and the private sector is unclear.
If the coalition should force the passage of these bills — as it did with the three education-related bills and the bill to extend the Self-Defense Forces’ noncombat deployment in Iraq by two years — it would only prove that the Diet session extension was for political tactics.
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