A policy speech Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered at both houses of the Diet on Nov. 17 highlighted his reluctance to have substantive debate during the ongoing special session, which was convened to hold an election for prime minister following the Oct. 22 general election.
The length of his speech, which summarized the campaign pledge that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) made for the House of Representatives race, was less than half that of a policy speech he made in autumn last year. He mentioned no new policy goals. His first policy speech since the fourth Abe Cabinet was launched after being re-elected prime minister in the session was far from satisfactory to the public.
The prime minister dissolved the lower chamber in late September to call the election to ask the public if they support his government's efforts to deal with the tense North Korean situation and the rapidly declining birthrate and aging of the population -- issues he called "national crises." Since the Abe government won confidence from voters in the general election, the prime minister has a responsibility to show a vision for overcoming this critical situation.
In his speech, Prime Minister Abe only emphasized his government's slogans, "a productivity revolution" and "a human resources development revolution," but fell short of clearly showing a vision for the future of the country's social security system.
The prime minister has proposed that ruling and opposition parties "join hands in defining a picture" for the future of the social security system. If so, he should take one step further than just calling for transformation of the social security system into one covering all generations and make a proposal that can serve as a basis for discussion between ruling and opposition parties.
Abe clearly mentioned the LDP's campaign pledge to make preschool education free, but he did not elaborate on specific challenges that should be addressed, such as how to deal with day care facilities that have not been officially approved by authorities in accordance with the Child Welfare Act. The prime minister neither touched on a policy package worth about 2 trillion yen to improve preschool education and day care services, nor pledged to raise the 8 percent consumption tax to 10 percent in October 2019 as scheduled, which would secure financial resources for the package.
Prime Minister Abe also failed to provide a thorough explanation on Japan's response to the North Korean situation.
The prime minister described the regional situation as the "severest in the postwar period," and said he will join other countries in pressuring Pyongyang to change its policy. He also said Japan will "take concrete action" to that end under the firm Japan-U.S. alliance, hinting at the possibility of putting military pressure on the North.
However, unless the prime minister clarifies how to draw a road map toward a resolution of the problem after intensifying pressure on the secluded state, he cannot convince members of the general public.
At the end of his speech, Abe called on both ruling and opposition parties to have constructive policy debate across party lines. To do so, he needs to provide a more specific explanation of policy measures that his government aims to implement.
His particular emphasis on policy debate could give the public the impression that he is attempting to divert public attention from favoritism scandals involving two school operators -- Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution.
Prime Minister Abe also called for discussions on constitutional revisions. In his policy speech, however, he never mentioned specific clauses that he believes should be revised, such as the stipulation of the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.
From next week, the prime minister and members of his Cabinet will face deliberations at the plenary sessions and Budget Committee sessions in both houses of the Diet. The prime minister should provide a sincere explanation of his administration's policy measures to clean his tarnished image of making light of the legislature.