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Editorial: Japan PM Kishida dodged all the big issues in Diet leaders' questions

The Japanese Diet has wrapped up party leaders' questions following Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's inaugural policy speech to kick off the regular parliamentary session earlier this month. Unfortunately, even with the coronavirus's omicron variant burning across the country, we saw no attempt to deepen discussion on the problems this country faces.

    The opposition parties sought to interrogate the government over its pandemic policies, but Kishida did nothing but repeat previous explanations.

    Kenta Izumi, head of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), proposed accelerating government plans to strengthen its pandemic measure command-and-control capabilities, which the government had aimed to do by around June. But Kishida paid him no notice. The prime minister also ignored Izumi's demand that revisions to the infectious disease control law expanding government power to secure hospital beds be submitted to the current Diet session in anticipation of increased pressure on the health care system.

    Exactly these kinds of revisions were in fact pitched to voters by Kishida's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) during last fall's House of Representatives election. But the LDP has since passed on them, eager to avoid a flashy confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties ahead of this summer's House of Councillors race.

    Meanwhile, even on Kishida's headline initiative of building a "new capitalism" different from the neoliberal policies of his predecessors, it has become painfully obvious that he has now decided to play it safe.

    CDP policy chief Junya Ogawa peppered the PM with questions on the heart of Kishida's new capitalism, asking, "Are growth and sustainability compatible in the first place?" He seemed to be trying to challenge the administration on whether it is resolved to change the structure of Japan's society setting economic growth as a precondition.

    But Kishida dodged any deeper discussion on the topic, saying only that he "wants to put together the grand design and action plans (for the new capitalism policy) this spring." We saw no passion from the prime minister, never mind that this policy is one he himself sponsored.

    The conservative opposition Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin), with its "merit-based" approach, being willing to work with the Kishida administration on policies it agrees on, and the Democratic Party for the People with its approach of "solutions before confrontation" both criticized Kishida, saying that his vision for Japan was unclear.

    Kishida, mindful of his predecessors Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga's unlistening disdain for the Diet, earlier stated that "democracy is in danger." And indeed, he was polite and conscientious in his exchanges with lawmakers. However, we did not see any willingness to truly set the Diet back on firm footing.

    Democracy is about respecting diverse opinions, and vigorous debate towards achieving compromise solutions. Especially in the pandemic era, when cooperation from and among the people is essential, we must all return to that basic principle.

    If the Kishida administration gets through this summer's upper house election, it looks to survive in power for a long time. But if the government coasts until the election just to avoid any hint of failure, it cannot stand against Japan's difficult domestic and diplomatic problems.

    The Diet is a "house of debate" that support's Japan's democracy. Prime Minister Kishida should lead vigorous debate in its chambers, with sincerity and passion.

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