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Opposition camp to grill Cabinet ministers' qualifications in upcoming Diet session

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama, center right, his counterpart in the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan Kiyomi Tsujimoto, center left, and other party officials are seen in the Diet building on Oct. 17, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Opposition parties are poised to grill the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the extraordinary session of the Diet to be convened on Oct. 24, on issues such as the qualifications of new Cabinet ministers the premier appointed earlier this month.

The opposition will also pursue favoritism scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.

The session will be the first since Abe's re-election to a third consecutive term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the reshuffle of his Cabinet and senior LDP members. The government and ruling parties intend to have a supplementary budget bill for this fiscal year and other measures pass the Diet without a hitch.

With the House of Councillors election looming next summer, ruling and opposition parties are likely to step up their confrontational stand in Diet debates.

The Diet affairs chiefs of five opposition parties reaffirmed to band together in grilling the Abe administration during a meeting held in the Diet building on Oct. 17.

Kazuhiro Haraguchi, the Diet affairs chief of the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters, "Is the Abe Cabinet qualified enough to protect the safety and security of our people? The prime minister should fulfill his accountability about the qualifications of his Cabinet members."

Whether 12 newly appointed Cabinet ministers can field questions without gaffes is a source of concern for the administration. "We are worried about some ministers over statements they may make. They will first need to survive this coming Diet session," said an individual close to the government.

One of such ministers is Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada. He previously called for a review of the government's position on the Nanjing Massacre during World War II. While Harada has avoided commenting on the issue during press conferences, a former Cabinet minister complained, "If opposition parties start grilling him over the issue, he wouldn't be able to get away just by withholding answers."

The opposition camp is also poised to focus on the heavily discounted sale of state land to Moritomo Gakuen and the Finance Ministry's doctoring of documents regarding the murky deal. Their primary targets are Prime Minister Abe and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso over their responsibilities in the scandals. Their political assault may shackle the government in dealing with other important issues.

"It isn't enough for them to just say they will fulfill their accountability," said Kiyomi Tsujimoto, Diet affairs chief of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told the media. "We will check whether the Abe administration has gone through any changes,"

During the extraordinary session, the government and ruling parties want to first pass the supplementary budget bill in early November. They then intend to put a bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to debate to expand the acceptance of foreign workers in Japan.

However, Prime Minister Abe is scheduled to visit China from Oct. 25, a day after the session opens, and then Singapore and Papua New Guinea in mid-November. This will make the Diet schedule for sessions requiring the prime minister's attendance very tight.

LDP Diet affairs chief Hiroshi Moriyama told reporters after a meeting between ruling and opposition party Diet affairs heads on Oct. 17, "We must see the supplementary budget bill pass the Diet swiftly," urging opposition parties to cooperate for an early adoption of the bill.

As for Abe's cherished goal of constitutional amendment, the LDP intends to accelerate discussions by appointing people close to the premier to positions for the promotion of the issue. The party has chosen former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo as chief director of the ruling party caucus in the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution. The LDP also selected Hakubun Shimomura, chief of the LDP's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, as director of the lower house constitutional commission.

However, opposition parties are stepping up their drive to thwart the move, taking measures such as demanding regulations on TV commercials relating to a public referendum on constitutional amendment. It is therefore uncertain whether the LDP will be able to submit its draft revision to the supreme law to the coming Diet session as desired by the prime minister.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Tanabe and Hiroshi Odanaka, Political News Department)

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