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Analysis: PM's Diet policy speech lacks specifics

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a policy speech during a Diet session in the House of Representatives, on Nov. 17, 2017. (Mainichi)

In a policy speech before both houses of the Diet on Nov. 17, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to provide a specific explanation of policy measures his government intends to implement.

This is despite the fact that he emphasized that the public clearly expressed their views on policy issues in the Oct. 22 House of Representatives election.

The policy speech, the shortest he has ever delivered in the Diet, also made no mention of the prime minister's favoritism scandals involving two school operators -- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution. Nor did Abe mention "detailed explanations" or "humility," terms he has repeated since his Cabinet's approval rate plummeted last June. Therefore, the sincerity with which he will face Diet deliberations this session has been called into question.

The governing parties had initially intended the current special Diet session to run for just eight days after Abe was re-elected prime minister following the general election. It had also assumed Abe would not deliver a policy speech, nor would the legislature hold substantive deliberations.

Nevertheless, the Diet will hear questions from party representatives including leaders at plenary sessions of both chambers as well as convene Budget Committee meetings, and not only in response to opposition parties' demands. The ruling bloc feared that the public would criticize the administration as "arrogant" if no serious legislative business got done.

In this year's regular Diet session that ended in June, the governing bloc forcibly drew a curtain on the Kake and Moritomo scandals without providing a sufficient explanation, causing the Abe Cabinet's approval ratings to plunge.

In the ongoing special session, Prime Minister Abe faces the first full-scale debate since the regular session. Nonetheless, Abe did not express regret over his insufficient explanation of the scandals in his speech.

The prime minister calls on both ruling and opposition parties to have constructive policy debate in the ongoing session. However, his explanation of policy measures his government intends to implement lacks specifics.

The prime minister announced his policy of using part of new revenue from a consumption tax hike from the current 8 percent to 10 percent, scheduled for October 2019, to make preschool education free of charge and transforming the social security system into one targeting all generations. However, some ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) legislators have expressed displeasure at Abe's failure to coordinate views with the LDP executive office and policymakers in advance.

On the diplomatic front, he did not touch on how he intends to improve relations between Japan and China following his recent summit talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

The Abe government is trying to change the Diet's customary practice of allocating more time for questions to opposition parties. All the more for that, Prime Minister Abe needs to fulfill his accountability during the current Diet session.

Unless Abe tries to make up for his speech's lack of specifics, he will inevitably come under fire for being conceited, as his government has relied excessively on the ruling bloc's predominance in the legislature.

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