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Editorial: The honeymoon is over for Japanese PM Suga

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reached one month in office on Oct. 16. Right after he was elected to the post by Japan's Diet, the legislature went into recess. We haven't even heard Suga make the policy speech that customarily kicks off the autumn extraordinary Diet session.

    And even as this irregular state of affairs for a new Cabinet continues, Suga has been popping off one concrete policy measure after another, including the creation of a "digital agency" to spearhead the digitization of government processes. Suga has also benefited with the people from his image as a self-made man, and his new administration was without a doubt quite popular at its launch.

    However, the political winds are already shifting.

    An Oct. 9-11 opinion survey by public broadcaster NHK showed support for the Suga Cabinet stood at 55% -- a 7-point drop from September. It seems likely the furor over Suga's refusal to appoint six of 105 scholars nominated to the Science Council of Japan played a leading role in this decline.

    Including the science council affair, we can say that we have gotten a good glimpse of "Suga-style politics" in the past month. One defining feature of his style is his utilitarian approach, summed up in his push to get mobile phone fees lowered. For consumers, this has a real financial impact similar to a tax decrease, and is bound to be welcomed by the Japanese people -- an effect Suga was doubtlessly aiming for. Furthermore, when it comes to coronavirus pandemic policy, the prime minister's emphasis on the "Go To" subsidy campaigns seems to indicate a clear government shift toward putting economic recovery first.

    Meanwhile, the handling of the Science Council of Japan appointments revealed the Suga administration's overbearing and coercive side. If the six scholars were in fact rejected because they had penned positions critical of the government, this would in effect be the same as using personnel appointments as a weapon to cow the bureaucracy.

    The core reason for rejecting the six scholars has still not been revealed. On Oct. 16, Suga met for talks with Science Council of Japan president Takaaki Kajita, but Suga apparently did not speak in any definite terms on why the scholars were crossed off the nominee list.

    We are at a place now where whenever the prime minister explains something on this, more questions arise. We wonder if Suga had assumed the science council appointments would not become such a major issue.

    The dominant mode of thinking in past Liberal Democratic Party administrations held that power should be exercised with restraint. However, it must be said that the Suga government's reckless and irresponsible use of power is following in the same vein as that of his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

    Furthermore, Suga's designs for the image of Japan and its diplomatic direction are as yet a mystery. When the autumn extraordinary Diet session gets underway on Oct. 26, the new administration will face some very serious questions indeed.

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