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Editorial: Japan PM Suga's policy speech fails to address public concerns, distrust

The regular session of the Diet convened on Jan. 18, with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga delivering a policy speech at a plenary session of both chambers of the Diet.

    The move finally marks the commencement of Diet proceedings amid a situation in which the spread of infections with the novel coronavirus has still not been brought under control, with the government having declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and other areas.

    Surely what people wanted to hear from the prime minister was a clear outline of goals for bringing the spread of coronavirus infections under control, with more in-depth explanations than those provided to date. But Suga merely adhered to existing policy guidelines, and did not respond to the sense of distrust among the public.

    In his speech, it was clear that Suga's stance was to prioritize measures to prevent the spread of infections, with his previous line of promoting both virus countermeasures and measures to boost the economy relayed in his policy speech last autumn having faded.

    But regarding Japan's medical systems, which are facing increasing pressure each day, all the prime minister did was to present existing policies such as providing subsidies to secure hospital beds for patients, as well as extra financial assistance for doctors and nurses.

    Will these measures get Japan over the serious situation it faces? A sense of crisis and concrete measures were clearly lacking. Suga stressed the importance of quickly bringing the country out of Stage 4 of the coronavirus crisis, corresponding to an explosive increase in infections, but did not outline a clear path for doing so.

    Just what kind of country does the prime minister want Japan to become? We can still see no concrete picture. Amid the critical circumstances the country now faces, the lack of vision will only spur anxiety among members of the public.

    Suga has previously put forward policies of "self-help, mutual assistance, public assistance and ties" for the society he wants to achieve, but in his latest policy speech, these words disappeared.

    Furthermore, the prime minister made hardly any references to the problem of politics and money, starting with the indictment without arrest of former farm minister Takamori Yoshikawa over his alleged acceptance of bribes from a major egg producer.

    With such an approach, public distrust in politics will only deepen.

    An opinion poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun found that the support rate for Suga's Cabinet had fallen to 33%. And 80% of respondents agreed that the prime minister's messages accompanying his declaration of a state of emergency, such as his call for people to refrain from going outside, had "not reached the public."

    In the current Diet session, politicians will debate revisions to a special measures law to combat the virus, with penalties for businesses that do not comply with requests to shorten their operating hours. The prime minister needs to lend an ear to the proposals put forward by opposition parties, and adopt effective measures.

    Instead of a mere monotone reading of documents created by government offices, unless Suga appeals to members of the public in his own words, his messages will not reach them.

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