Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a policy speech to the ordinary Diet session on Jan. 22, wherein he repeatedly used the term "challenge" in underscoring his administration's efforts toward economic growth and dynamic engagement of all citizens, while urging opposition parties to come up with counterproposals.
In order to promote substantial Diet debate, Abe himself should explain in a more candid manner his administration's accomplishments over the past three years, as well as the challenges that it faces. It is also important for him to heed various opinions, including those from the opposition camp. The prime minister is the one who should strive to promote "constructive debate."
It has been about a year since the prime minister last delivered a speech in the Diet. In his latest take, he repeatedly uttered the word "challenge," just as he had during a press conference that he held at the beginning of the year, while also advocating "innovative economic growth."
In the meantime, Abe also attached weight to labor system reform, such as realizing "equal pay for equal work," as well as additional measures including livelihood assistance. The prime minister is apparently aiming to focus on "distribution" through rectifying disparities ahead of this summer's House of Councillors election.
It is yet true that the barrage of the term "challenge" leaves us with a sense of discomfort. What is most required of the Abe Cabinet is awareness regarding the current economic conditions three years since its inauguration, as well as the provision of detailed explanations about the challenges in coping with those conditions.
Beginning early this year, markets have seen sharply falling stock prices, as well as an appreciating yen. It is as if backpedaling had occurred along the path of the "Abenomics" economic policy, which had been promoted through measures including monetary easing. If the country's economy stumbles, Abe's scenario of bringing about a "positive cycle of growth and distribution" could crumble at its foundation.
In his policy speech, the prime minister pointed to "an increasingly uncertain outlook for the global economy." He stopped short of saying that Japan was no longer in deflation, however, which he had boasted about in his statement released at the beginning of this year. It is true that there are external factors such as the slowing of Chinese economy, but the true value of the Abe administration's policy measures are now being put to the test. To that effect, the prime minister should have discussed more in depth what he thinks about the current state of affairs.
With regard to his aspiration of revising the Constitution, Abe called for discussion on the issue on a parallel with electoral reform. Despite the fact that policy speeches are meant to focus on explaining budget plans, then, the fact that the prime minister is seeking to secure enough of a majority in the upper house poll to initiate constitutional amendment in the chamber means that he should have used this speech to clarify what he really aims to achieve through constitutional revision.
Also of concern was Abe's attitude toward the opposition bloc. From the onset of his speech, he stated in apparent criticism of opposition parties, "It is irresponsible to assume that things will be all right while not presenting counterproposals." He also remarked toward the end of his speech that merely advocating against policies would do nothing for fulfilling responsibilities.
Certainly, the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and other parties should strive to make counterproposals. However, no discussion would be viable as long as the prime minister takes a belligerent posture and turns a deaf ear to criticism amidst the overwhelming dominance of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the legislature.
During the current Diet session, Abe snapped back at an opposition lawmaker's question about resources for the reduced consumption tax rate, saying, "You have never made an effort to understand the situation, so there is really nothing to be done." His responses to Diet questions are indeed fraught with rough manners and dodging of the subjects at hand. He should, instead, be humble in re-examining his government's policy measures.