The ongoing extraordinary session of the Japanese Diet is set to end on Dec. 5. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is going to close the session without extending its period, even despite the rapid resurgence of coronavirus infections in the country.
The government has indicated its awareness that "the next three weeks will be a crucial period" for avoiding the reissuance of a coronavirus state of emergency. The government, then, should extend the period of the Diet session and continue discussions over measures to prevent infections from spreading any further and how to provide livelihood support for people.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are set to submit a bill to the Diet to revise the special measures law for combating infectious diseases.
The bill centers around giving prefectural governors authority to request the central government to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus and having the state partially cover handouts to be paid to eatery businesses when the governors ask them to refrain from operating to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
While the ruling parties say they will respond to out-of-session meetings over the issue once a week or so after the closure of the current Diet session, that will not be enough for the bill to pass the legislature even if it can undergo deliberations.
The government and ruling coalition have explained that the reason they are not complying with the opposition bloc's request to extend the Diet session is because they are rushing to compile a third supplementary budget bill for fiscal 2020. However, the extra budget draft can be formulated even while the Diet is in session. The first and second supplementary budget bills were put together during the regular Diet session. Such a reason cannot excuse the closure of the legislature without extension.
The current Diet session is a forum for the first full-scale debate since the launch of the Suga administration. However, the session was convened 40 days after his Cabinet's inauguration and is set to last for a mere 41 days. During the session, Prime Minister Suga often skirted around questions raised by lawmakers and reiterated the phrase, "I will refrain from answering" queries.
Furthermore, if he is refusing to extend the Diet session, he may well deserve criticism that his administration is shying away from Diet deliberations just as the government of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did.
There are also other issues that need to be put to debate. One of them is suspicions surrounding dinner functions organized by Abe's support group on the eve of annual cherry blossom-viewing parties he hosted. Abe's aides have admitted to covering shortfalls in the costs for the dinner functions. The Diet should demand the former prime minister provide explanations over the issue and get to the bottom of the allegations.
With regard to Prime Minister Suga's refusal to appoint six out of 105 scholars nominated as new members to the Science Council of Japan, he has yet to give an account of the reason behind his controversial decision.
When it comes to responses to the coronavirus, the prime minister needs to take flexible measures while listening to diverse opinions. At the same time, it is imperative for him to provide careful explanations to the public and put his efforts into gaining their understanding and cooperation.
And yet, Suga has not held a press conference regarding coronavirus measures even once since taking office. If the current Diet session is to be closed as scheduled, there would be no forum for debating the issue. If he is going to give the Diet an early "winter break," there is no way he can fulfill his responsibility to the people.