Lawmakers from the largest opposition party on Monday attacked Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, demanding that the new leader explain why his predecessors’ coronavirus responses and economic policies failed, while offering their own counter-proposals to differentiate themselves before a general election.
During the first debate in the national legislature, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), Yukio Edano, chastised Japan’s “complete failure” over its delay in imposing entry restrictions on people arriving from mainland China. at the start of the pandemic. Criticizing the government’s decision to shorten the period of self-isolation in government-designated facilities to three or six days, Edano offered a 10-day stay and three rounds of PCR testing as an alternative.
Edano also denounced the shortcomings of previous administrations in bolstering the country’s medical resources, expanding PCR testing and facilitating rapid deployment of vaccines. The opposition party leader criticized Kishida’s plan to strengthen the chain of command in the area of crisis management as “lacking details”.
“Politics so far has only stoked competition and exaggerated self-responsibility,” Edano told the Lower House. “Nothing will ever change if you just change the cover and break with the politics that have led to this and think about it.”
Kishida replied that he had tasked three ministers – those with the portfolios of health, coronavirus response and vaccine deployment – to work on a plan to secure medical resources, help patients recover at home and administer vaccines.
In anticipation of another outbreak in winter, Kishida called for the expansion of free PCR tests that do not require reservations. However, the Prime Minister did not elaborate on the details.
“Vaccinations have been proceeding at unprecedented speed around the world, but not enough hospital beds have been set aside for coronavirus patients,” Kishida acknowledged. “At the same time, we will thoroughly analyze our responses so far and examine what has prevented them.”
The questioning by Diet party officials, which is taking place in the lower and upper houses until Wednesday, is one of the few opportunities opposition parties have to toast Kishida and the ruling coalition before the Prime Minister dissolves the Lower House on Thursday. Kishida announced last week that the general election campaign would begin on October 19 and October 31 would be designated as election day.
Kishida’s elevation to the Prime Minister’s Office presents a challenge for the opposition as some of his political priorities – improving health services to prepare for another wave of coronavirus and focusing on wealth distribution – overlap with theirs. Nonetheless, the opposition hoped to hold a budget committee meeting, where they would have the opportunity to grill Kishida and his cabinet members.
Kiyomi Tsujimoto, a CDP MP, again called on the prime minister to convene the committee. The ruling party, however, has been reluctant to budge.
Aware of criticism that the opposition only ever attacks the ruling coalition, Edano interspersed a series of counter-proposals throughout his speech. As part of the CDP’s agenda, it pledged to provide low-income people with a cash payment of ￥120,000 per year and other immediate financial benefits, and to effectively exempt people from income tax. income people whose annual salary is about 10 million yen or less per year.
To boost consumption and advance tax reform, he called for temporarily lowering the sales tax to 5% while raising income and corporate tax rates for high earners and large corporations, respectively.
Edano jumped on the continuity between Kishida and his predecessors Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga when it comes to economic policies, with the opposition party leader chastising Abenomics, a series of economic policies that have boosted stock prices but n failed to stimulate private consumption. Regarding Kishida’s policy of “creating a positive cycle of growth and distribution” by strengthening the middle class, Edano dismissed it as nothing more than a sweeping statement.
“The biggest issues are that proper distribution isn’t working and there are widespread worries about the future, both of which are hampering growth,” Edano said. “The starting point for creating the positive cycle, I believe, is good distribution.”
The prime minister defended Abenomics, saying it has been important for economic growth, and his policy of promoting growth and the distribution of wealth. He even took a swing at the Democratic Party of Japan, the CDP’s predecessor.
“First of all, it is extremely important for us to aim for growth and we will do everything we can to achieve this goal,” Kishida said. “It’s something we learned from the failure of the years when the DPJ was in power.”
On diplomacy, Edano spoke of the need to revamp the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States – allowing Japanese authorities to enter US bases in the event of an accident or criminal case. – and asked for Kishida’s perspective on Taiwan-China relations.
The prime minister did not express the urgency of revising the treaty immediately. Regarding Taiwan, he reaffirmed the government’s position, which calls for a peaceful resolution of the issue based on dialogue between Taipei and Beijing.
Edano also urged Kishida to let Japan participate as an observer in a meeting of signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Kishida, who belongs to a political family in atomic-bombed Hiroshima prefecture but is neutral on Japan’s participation in the treaty, stressed the need to work towards a “world without nuclear weapons” while claiming that the country must first bring nuclear powers, including the United States, into the discussion.
“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is an important treaty that can be seen as a path towards a world without nuclear weapons,” Kishida said. “However, to change the situation, the cooperation of the nuclear powers is necessary. Not a single nuclear nation, however, joined the treaty.
Akira Amari, the secretary general of the PLD, spoke on behalf of the ruling party and called on Japan to invest strategically in areas critical to economic growth, including semiconductors. The ruling party heavyweight also asked Kishida about his creation of a new post as minister in charge of economic security.
In response, Kishida outlined a plan to institute a fund of around 10 trillion yen to support research at universities, as well as massive investment in important areas such as artificial intelligence.
He argued that his cabinet would continue its efforts to prevent the leakage of advanced technologies to other countries and strengthen economic autonomy.
“Since there is a wide range of economic security issues, the government as a whole, under the leadership of a new minister, will address various issues, including building strong supply chains and attracting companies manufacturing items such as semiconductors in Japan,” Kishida said.
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