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Opposition lacks debate strategy as Diet probes foreign workers, other key issues

Regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama speaks at the House of Councillors Budget Committee session on Nov. 7, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Opposition parties grilled the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Diet proceedings on Nov. 7 over a minister's money scandal and a controversial bill on accepting more foreign workers, but lacked effective strategies to deepen discussion on key issues.

Regional revitalization minister Satsuki Katayama, who was earlier hit by a graft scandal involving her secretary, remained on the defensive during a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on Nov. 7, over accusations that her political group failed to report a total of 1.45 million yen in its political funding reports.

The minister announced that the political group she represents will shortly release the results of its probe into the matter, after Japanese Communist Party (JCP) secretariat head Akira Koike raised issues with the missing funds.

"The group failed to keep receipts adequately. It is now confirming each item," Katayama explained.

Katayama, the only female minister in the fourth Abe Cabinet, already corrected entries in her group's political funding reports twice, on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2. In a related development, Shinya Adachi, a member of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, blasted her for installing a promotional sign of a size that could violate the Public Offices Election Act in the city of Saitama, north of Tokyo. Prime Minister Abe stated "I would like her to fulfill her accountability and execute her duty," without criticizing her actions.

With regard to a government-sponsored bill to revise the immigration control law to allow more foreign workers into Japan, Prime Minister Abe and other officials reiterated the position that the measure is not intended to be a policy change to open the door to immigration.

Opposition forces repeatedly attacked the bill as "half-baked," and slammed the government for intending to shelve the work to finalize the specifics of the new system until after the bill passes the Diet. "It's like putting the cart before the horse," the JCP's Koike said.

At the same time, opposition parties have recognized the need to accept more foreign workers into Japan to address acute domestic labor shortages, and they will likely aim to block the bill's passage by focusing on the governing bloc's hasty manner of deliberating the legislation.

As Prime Minister Abe is scheduled to travel abroad in mid-November, there will be only few opportunities for the opposition camp to face off against him before the extraordinary Diet session comes to a close on Dec. 10. Opposition parties are set to question the qualifications of Abe Cabinet members during House of Representatives budget panel deliberations to be held after the prime minister's return. Those critical of the Cabinet have accused Abe of having a "clearance sale" by appointing many members from the long list of legislators from his Liberal Democratic Party who were waiting to become ministers when he reshuffled the Cabinet in early October.

However, the opposition camp has lacked strategic focus on key issues. "Each opposition member merely raised whatever questions they wanted to ask," complained one mid-ranking legislator.

"There are many others who should not be serving as Cabinet ministers, but we ended up running out of time to grill them," Yuichiro Tamaki, leader of the Democratic Party of the People, said during a news conference on Nov. 7.

(Japanese original by Tetsuya Kageyama, Political News Department)

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