Digital reform bills short-circuited by divided Diet

Passage of a package of digital reform bills, a cornerstone of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s digitization initiative, has been delayed in the Diet in a setback that has revealed crossed wires within Suga’s own Liberal Democratic Party. After clearing the House of Representatives with uncharacteristic speed on April 6, it was announced that the bills would not be deliberated by the House of Councillors until April 14, a weeklong lag which stands to dash the government’s initial goal of passing the bills by the end of this month.

The main pillar of the bill is the establishment of a digital agency to be headed by the prime minister himself.

“The bills are a signature of the Suga administration,” said Hiroshige Seko, secretary general for the LDP in the House of Councillors, at a press conference on Friday. “We will ensure that they are passed swiftly.”

Yet, ruling and opposition party leaders said that they will not begin vetting the bills until a plenary session of the upper house on April 14. Although deliberations could have begun on April 7, the day after the digital reform proposal passed the House of Representatives, the party leaders had already agreed to first address two other bills in the upper house’s cabinet committee, a move that one senior LDP upper house member said “prioritized [the LDP’s] relationship with the opposition parties” over the digitization bills.

The bills are expected to be passed in mid-May at the earliest.

There had been talk within the LDP that the prime minister would dissolve the House of Representatives and hold a general election in April or May, so the bills were ushered through the House early, in order to prevent them from holding up the timing of a potential dissolution.

“We passed the bill early because we have no clue when the election will be held,” said one senior LDP lower house member. “Of course, the House of Councillors, which does not have to worry about dissolution, seems to have a different mentality.”

Seko brushed aside these murmurs from within the party at Friday’s press conference, saying, “The House of Councillors has its own schedule.”