Opening of Ordinary Diet Session: Kishida Administration Faces Competence Test in Carrying out Reform

Whether political reforms can be achieved during the current Diet session will serve as a touchstone for the future of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s administration.

At the same time, important issues such as overcoming the low birth rate, supporting disaster-stricken areas and responding to the drastically changing international situation cannot be neglected. The competence of the Kishida administration will be put to the test.

The ordinary Diet session has convened. It has been a turbulent opening following the revelation of Liberal Democratic Party members being suspected of having violated the Political Funds Control Law.

Normally, the prime minister’s policy speech is delivered on the day the Diet convenes, but this time it has been postponed to the following week. The opposition parties stressed that the priority would be to clarify the precise picture of the cases and demanded intensive deliberations at the budget committees for both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, leaving the ruling parties no choice but to comply.

The opposition parties also demanded the replacement of certain LDP lawmakers in such posts as chairpersons of standing and special committees of both houses because they failed to list kickback funds from the faction they belong to in their political funds reports. As a result, there was a rushed turnover in some posts, including that of the upper house Budget Committee chairperson.

If the turmoil in the Diet continues, it will affect deliberations on an initial draft budget for fiscal 2024 and various other important bills.

The initial draft budget includes measures for the reconstruction of the areas struck by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake. Rapid passage of the budget is essential for the continued support of people affected by the disaster.

Deliberations on a bill to secure financial resources for measures to combat the low birth rate are also scheduled in the current Diet session. There is opposition to collecting money for support funds from the public for that purpose by adding surcharges to medical insurance premiums.

The government needs to dedicatedly explain the significance of the support fund system and expand public understanding.

Regarding economic security, there will be a bill to establish a security clearance system to assess the qualifications of people who have access to sensitive information. This is essential for protecting cutting-edge technology.

It is unacceptable for the ruling and opposition parties to spend so much time on issues of politics and money that they neglect deliberations on policy matters. First, a path to the realization of political reforms should be paved, so as not to affect the processing of important bills.

However, discord continues within the LDP over the dissolution of factions, among other issues. The future of reform remains uncertain.

Some junior and mid-ranking LDP lawmakers have said that penalties such as requests to leave the party should be imposed on the executives known as the Abe faction’s core “five-man group” who failed to record kickback funds in their political funds reports.

Now that a case has been established against a former treasurer of the Kishida faction for violating the Political Funds Control Law, some have stressed that Kishida, who served as the faction head until last year, should be held accountable for the matter.

It is totally unacceptable for faction executives and others to avoid giving an explanation.

It is said that a government cannot stand without the faith of the people. Now is the time for the prime minister to take this saying to heart.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 27, 2024)