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Editorial: Abe must walk the talk to make progress in Diet deliberations

The extraordinary session of the Diet began on Oct. 24, and deliberations will continue for 48 days until Dec. 10.

This is the first Diet session since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won another third three-year term in the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In his policy speech at the national legislature at the beginning of the session, Abe expressed his determination to launch "new nation-building efforts with the public over the next three years."

During this session, the Diet has to deliberate on a number of important bills that may change Japanese society. One of them is a bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to open wide Japan's labor market to foreign workers.

The new policy is aimed at alleviating serious labor shortages and not at accepting immigrants, the government says. Still, it clearly represents a fundamental change in immigration policy.

Some argue that opening up the labor market will effectively result in the acceptance of immigrants. But the legal changes prohibit newly accepted foreign workers from bringing their family members with them for at least five years, posing a potential humanitarian problem.

In his latest Diet speech, Prime Minister Abe emphasized that he will "create a Japan that is respected by the world, a Japan where excellent human resources from all over the world gather."

If that is really his intention, the policy of taking in more foreign workers should be discussed seriously as a package of social programs including receiving immigrants, not as a mere countermeasure against labor shortages. We want the ruling and opposition camps to engage in thorough discussion on this matter.

Another focal issue requiring a close monitoring in this session of the Diet is constitutional revision. The prime minister has indicated a strong willingness to present a package of changes to the supreme law, including a provision stating the existence of the Self-Defense Forces.

Abe said in his speech that the revisions are needed "to create a country for the Heisei era and beyond," urging the ruling and opposition parties to begin discussions on the matter in the Diet. "I am convinced that we can gain a broad consensus on the issue by overcoming differences in positions," he said.

But was it not the prime minister himself who undercut the basis for careful deliberations between the ruling and opposition camps in the Diet that would be required for reaching a broad consensus?

During the previous Diet session, the premier continued to provide insincere responses to questions from opposition lawmakers, evading efforts to get to the bottom of the favoritism allegations linking him to school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution. He must reflect on his contradictory behavior of making light of the highest organ of state power while saying that he is handling the issue "carefully, with modesty."

In an indirect reference to these allegations, the prime minister told the Diet on Oct. 24: "I will squarely face the public's apprehensions about whether I am conceited because I have been in my position for a long time." He should walk this talk if he wants fruitful discussions during the extraordinary session.

On top of the Moritomo and Kake affairs, some inconvenient realities such as depopulation and budget deficits await the premier's serious discussions with the opposition.

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