Is it appropriate for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to be engrossed in maintaining power while the Japanese public is forced to practice immense patience due to the coronavirus pandemic?
Suga is poised to appoint new party executives and shake up the Cabinet next week, ahead of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s presidential election set to be announced on Sept. 17. This is an unorthodox way of going about the situation, since it is something that would usually be conducted by the winner of the party leadership election.
It is said that Suga is intending to replace LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, who has been in his position for five years. Dissatisfaction toward Nikai has been mounting within the party as he expanded his faction's influence.
Suga made his move soon after former LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida -- who had indicated his intention to run in the party presidential race -- announced his plans for party reform with Nikai in mind. Furthermore, Suga was reportedly deliberating over the dissolution of the House of Representatives while expressing his plans for personnel changes.
On Sept. 1, the prime minister told reporters, "The greatest priority is coronavirus countermeasures. The current severe conditions are not a situation to be dissolving the lower house in." Within the LDP, however, members are suspicious that this is just an excuse to postpone the party presidential contest, in which he is certain to take the brunt of criticism.
It is obvious that coronavirus countermeasures must be prioritized over jockeying for political power.
If the House of Representatives is dissolved, all lower house legislators will lose their jobs, making it impossible for the Diet to sufficiently debate decisions on new coronavirus countermeasures, the issuance and extension of state of emergency declarations, and other matters.
Because of this, the government and the ruling parties have been considering waiting until the current lower house members' terms end to conduct a general election, which would allow them to continue their jobs as lawmakers during the campaign period, instead of dissolving the lower chamber and calling a snap general election.
In either case, voting day for the lower house election is expected to be Oct. 17. If that is the case, then isn't it only reasonable to keep the Diet in a position capable of dealing with unexpected emergencies?
Even after the Tokyo Olympics, which the prime minister had hoped would raise his administration's approval ratings, his Cabinet's support figures have remained low, dipping below 30%. The administration is being criticized as one step behind in its COVID-19 countermeasures, and for its refusal to provide the public with full explanations.
The reasonable thing to do would be to immediately hold an extraordinary session of the Diet for the ruling and opposition parties to discuss coronavirus countermeasures, then for Suga and other candidates to openly take part in debate for the LDP's presidential seat, and only then to hold a lower house election to seek a popular mandate. It is hard to believe that simply making a few manipulative personnel changes will allow the Suga administration to win back the public's confidence.
It can't be helped if people see Prime Minister Suga's actions, whose core purpose is sustaining his own political lifespan, as being not even so much about partisan interests, but more so about his individual interests. A figure with this attitude is not suited to be our nation's leader.