CDPJ leader looks to show party can offer more than just criticism

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kenta Izumi, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, speaks at a plenary session of the House of Representatives at the Diet on Wednesday.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, faced Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his first parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Izumi presented a series of proposals in an effort to show that the CDPJ has become a party that not only criticizes but also formulates policies.

In response, the prime minister made an effort to provide detailed explanations about COVID-19 measures and other issues, a gesture possibly made to differentiate himself from his most recent predecessors.

“Why don’t we allow municipalities to choose cash benefits instead of coupons at their own discretion?” Izumi asked, regarding a pandemic handout for children under 19 years old worth ¥100,000, with half of the amount provided in the form of coupons.

Izumi seized upon the issue because of the high public interest — about 90% of children in the age group are eligible to receive the benefit. Growing opposition among local governments due to the added administrative burden of distributing coupons might be another reason.

According to the Cabinet Office, the administrative cost of the program is estimated at ¥28 billion for cash benefits and ¥96.7 billion for the distribution of coupons.

Izumi dialed down his party’s critical tone and posed questions as if making proposals.

In response to Izumi’s coupon query, Kishida said the local governments would be able to offer a full cash handout depending on the situation in the municipality.

Izumi also called for stricter border control measures, which have been strengthened amid a global outbreak of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Under existing rules, the quarantine period for people returning to Japan is three to 10 days at a designated facility depending on the country from which the person has traveled. Izumi proposed implementing a uniform 10-day period.

When Izumi stood in the November party leadership race he stressed that the CDPJ should be a “policy-making party.”

Wednesday’s session was an opportunity for him to show off the new image of the party. At the end of the session, he emphasized that he had proposed 17 policy items.

However, a veteran CDPJ lawmaker said, “As an opposition party, our questions were weak and lacked power,” perhaps a byproduct of the prime minister’s focus on wealth distribution policies, which also happen to be in line with CDPJ proposals such as raising wages for nurses, childcare workers, nursing care staff.

Kishida made a notable effort to answer the questions thoughtfully.

In the case of the ¥100,000 benefit, the prime minister explained the significance of dividing the benefit into cash and coupons, saying, “We have decided to make it two-pronged: a cash benefit of ¥50,000, which can be realized quickly, and coupons worth ¥50,000,” which will increase the likelihood of people using them to buy things for their children.

The prime minister thoroughly read the questions from Izumi and others that were submitted on Tuesday and spent two hours before the plenary session adjusting his answers, according to sources.

A source close to the prime minister said, “As responses to the opposition parties are also explanations for the public, the prime minister is trying to carefully explain the content and goals of his policies.”

This could be interpreted as an effort to differentiate himself from former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, who were often criticized for their lack of explanations.

On the day of the debate, the prime minister’s lack of concrete measures drew some criticism from the opposition, but he did not seem to mind.

A former minister said he was “responding at his own pace.”