Japan’s Prime Minister Aims to Raise Approval Rating by Promoting Digitization

REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan’s response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at his official residence during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 30, 2021.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga hopes to pass six digital transformation bills as quickly as possible and launch a digital agency in September as scheduled, in the hope of increasing his Cabinet’s approval rating by swiftly realizing a key policy.

The Cabinet approved the bills on Tuesday. The coronavirus pandemic has shed light on the delay in the digitization of Japan’s public sector, leading to dissatisfaction among the public, but it is unknown whether these complaints can be resolved.

“We need to improve the country’s digital services and show results to the people,” digital transformation minister Takuya Hirai said at a press conference Tuesday. “There are great expectations for the digital agency, and the days to come will be vital.”

Suga sees the digital agency as a symbol of reform and has stressed its role as a driving force for growth, along with global warming countermeasures aimed at achieving a decarbonized society. Compared to decarbonization, which is a long-term strategy stretching through the year 2050, Suga has given a number of instructions to Hirai and others since the launch of his Cabinet in September and stuck with plans to establish the digital agency at an early date.

The prime minister’s moves are prompted by bitter experiences such as the delay in the one-time special cash payments over the coronavirus outbreak and the turmoil related to online applications. For that reason, Suga plans to give the new agency such authority as the power to advise other ministries and agencies, and make it a powerful organization headed by the prime minister.

He will create a new council tasked with promoting a digital society, in which all Cabinet members will participate.

The approval rating for the Suga Cabinet has nosedived since its launch. Raising the approval rating is an urgent matter for the prime minister ahead of the dissolution of the House of Representatives and the snap election that will take place sometime by autumn.

Suga hopes to contain the spread of the coronavirus to some extent with vaccinations, hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in summer and recover his approval rating by promoting digitization.

However, My Number cards are key to promoting digitization and they are still not very widespread. The government aims to issue the cards to almost all residents by the end of fiscal 2022, but only 31.93 million, or about 25 percent of the total, had been issued as of the end of January.