Suga Faces Headwinds over Virus Responses, Money Scandals

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, left, calls for cooperation to contain an increase of infections with the novel coronavirus, at a press conference in the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is facing political headwinds over his responses to the unrelenting novel coronavirus crisis and recent allegations of scandals involving members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party members.

At a press conference on Friday, the prime minister apologized over government measures that have fallen short to prevent further virus infection cases. Also, he had to repeatedly explain about the scandals involving former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Takamori Yoshikawa.

■ Deep regret

“Though I am in a position to request avoiding meals with a large number of people under ordinary circumstances, I feel deep regret [about my deeds],” Suga said at the beginning of the press conference. He voluntarily mentioned a dinner meeting in which eight people attended, on the evening of Dec. 14. The dinner meeting drew criticism.

About his judgment to suspend the Go To Travel campaigns meant to help the tourism industry, he said without any defiance: “Explanations to the public were not sufficient. I shall make more efforts to have careful communications with the public.”

Though the government has asked the public to restrain from holding year-end and New Year parties, the number of people going out in Tokyo has not decreased remarkably. Critics have pointed out that it is “partly because of antipathy against the words and deeds of the prime minister.”

Therefore, Suga seemed to have demonstrated an attitude expressing his humble regrets to ask the public to cooperate for infection prevention measures in year-end and New Year periods.

■ Worse than ‘cherry’ problem

Suga is also faces hardship about politics-and-money problems coming to light.

Concerning parties prior to the cherry blossom-viewing events organized by Abe, the former prime minister’s answers in Diet sessions were different from the facts, and thus Suga’s answers in the Diet session, when he was chief cabinet secretary, were found to be untrue as a result.

During the press conference, Suga reiterated his apology to the public, and said, “I want to carefully explain also in the Diet.”

Concerning Yoshikawa, a suspicion that he might have received cash from a former head of a major egg-producing company has surfaced.

Suga and Yoshikawa were first elected to the House of Representatives at the same time, and they have held a close relationship.

If investigations into Yoshikawa show major progresses, a senior LDP member said, “The negative impact will be more serious than that in the cherry blossom party problem.”

Suga declined to comment on the allegations and only said, “Politicians should voluntarily straighten themselves up and fulfill their accountability.”

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partner, told reporters on Friday, in the Diet building, “Unless those are based on trust [of the public] to politics, measures [related to the novel coronavirus] can not be sufficiently effective.”

■ Waning sense of speed

Dec. 25 marked the 100th day since the Suga Cabinet’s inauguration. His administration has accumulated a certain degree of achievements, such as lowering mobile phone subscription fees as the Cabinet’s eye-catching policy.

But the Suga administration has not been able to recover from a series of failures.

For example, a decision was postponed to next year over how to dispose of processed water containing radioactive substances from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

A shadow is falling over the sense of speed in implementing policies, which Suga has demonstrated as his big appeal.

Within the LDP, some have voiced concern over the adverse effects on a by-election in the lower house’s Hokkaido No. 2 constituency to be held in April 2021, in the wake of Yoshikawa’s resignation as a Diet member.

If the ruling parties’ candidates lose in the by-election and other elections in a row, it will be unavoidable that Suga’s political centripetal power will further decline.

It is inevitable that such a bad scenario would impact Suga’s strategy to dissolve the lower house and a following general election.