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News Navigator: What's Japan PM's policy speech in the Diet all about?

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivers a policy speech during a plenary session of the House of Councillors on Oct. 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Kentaro Ikushima)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the background of the prime minister's policy speech in the Diet.

    Question: I saw Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivering a speech in the Diet on TV. What was it about?

    Answer: It is customary for the prime minister to explain his line of thinking over state affairs in general at the outset of extraordinary and special sessions of the Diet each time. It's called a "policy speech." The current extraordinary Diet session was convened on Oct. 26. Because Suga's speech was his first in the legislature since he took office on Sept. 16, it attracted a great deal of attention.

    Q: Isn't there another similar kind of speech?

    A: That's an "administrative policy speech." In the speech, delivered during the ordinary Diet session convened in January every year, the prime minister explains the basic policies for the government as a whole for the year. It started in 1890, when then Prime Minister Aritomo Yamagata made an administrative policy speech in the first session of the Imperial Diet. Later in 1953, then Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida gave a policy speech -- the first of its kind -- in the extraordinary Diet session. It was after this that these two types of prime ministerial speeches came to be distinguished from each other. But there are no constitutional or other legal provisions stipulating those speeches, and they are just customarily referred to by different names.

    Q: Wasn't the Diet in session when Suga was elected prime minister?

    A: That extraordinary Diet session in September was held almost solely for the vote to elect the prime minister and lasted for just three days. There was no time for Suga to make an address.

    Q: He should've given his policy speech much earlier, shouldn't he?

    A: Opposition parties are criticizing Suga over the late speech, which was made 40 days after he assumed office. Looking at the timing of speeches given by new prime ministers in recent decades, you can see that then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama gave his policy speech 40 days after coming into power in 2009, and in 2012 then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered his policy speech 33 days after he returned to power. Those two speeches came a bit late because of the change of government. In 2008, then Prime Minister Taro Aso made his policy address just five days after taking office.

    Q: So what follows the prime minister's policy speech?

    A: There will be question-and-answer sessions for the prime minister to respond to questions raised by leaders of political parties during the plenary sessions of both chambers of the Diet to be held from Oct. 28 through Oct. 30. Both the party representatives and Prime Minister Suga are expected to take dozens of minutes to raise and answer questions, respectively. From Nov. 2, the budget committee session of the House of Representatives will be held for the first time since the Suga administration kicked off. This session will take a one-question one-answer form, and attention is focused on what kind of answers Suga will give over issues including his refusal to appoint six scholars to the Science Council of Japan despite the body's recommendations.

    (Japanese original by Itsuo Tokubo, Political News Department)

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