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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 August 19 - 25  > Looking back over gov't led by Abe Shinzo, the longest-serving prime minister
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2020 August 19 - 25 TOP3 [POLITICS]

Looking back over gov't led by Abe Shinzo, the longest-serving prime minister

August 24, 2020

Abe Shinzo has become the longest-serving prime minister in Japan while facing an impasse caused by his maladministration. His tenure reached the 2,799th day on August 24.

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Abe government has not taken any effective countermeasures to deal with the pandemic.

The closure of all public elementary schools created confusion among the general public. The distribution of cloth face masks to household dubbed "Abenomasks" generated further public mistrust. With the state of emergency declared on April 7, Abe issued a request to suspend business activities but paid no heed to the demands of shop owners and of opposition parties for "compensation for voluntary business closures".

Regarding support for people's livelihoods, the Abe government first planned to provide 300,000 yen per household with an income limit. However, it was limited in scope and was so insufficient that public criticism erupted. In the end, pushed by opposition parties, the government provided "special cash payments" of 100,000 yen to all residents, improved the Employment Adjustment Subsidy program, and provided rent support. However, actual payments and responses by the government were too late for many people and business owners to make ends meet.

The government has been unwilling to expand the capacity of PCR testing and to cover losses in hospital incomes. In particular, the government has been incompetent in coping with the surge of new infections since July.

Under these circumstances, Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo on July 28 urgently proposed that PM Abe radically increase the PCR testing capacity in order to flatten the curve. In August, the government finally decided to expand PCR tests.

On July 22, the Abe government implemented the "Go To Travel" campaign to stimulate domestic demand. Despite meeting with growing concern from experts and local municipalities over the spread of COVID-19 infections, Abe promoted this campaign in all prefectures except Tokyo. Under the campaign, infections are spreading in Okinawa, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency issued by the government of Okinawa Prefecture.

Successive Liberal Democratic Party governments have, based on their adherence to neoliberal doctrine, cut back on the number of public healthcare centers which were supposed to be a core element of anti-infectious disease measures. The number of public healthcare centers in Japan decreased to 472 in 2019 from 850 in 1990. The present government is planning to abolish and reorganize public hospitals and publicly-owned medical institutions throughout the country. These hospitals have been playing a key role in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is obvious to everyone, but the government intends to push forward with this plan.

Suspicions about Abe's personal use of his position of power have deepened, too. Not only in the "Moritomo" and "Kake" school scandals but also the "cherry blossom-viewing parties" scandal, relevant official documents were either falsified, covered up, or discarded and bureaucrats had to tell lies in conformity with PM Abe's lies. Democracy seems to no longer work in this administration. To avoid being blamed for a series of allegations, the Abe government even tried to intervene in personnel affairs of top prosecutors by revising the Public Prosecutors' Office Act. Former Justice Minister Kawai Katsuyuki and his wife Anri were arrested and indicted for violating the Public Offices Election Act. Economic Minister Sugawara Isshu resigned over an election law violation. Lower House lawmaker Akimoto Tsukasa, former state minister in charge of casino-centric integrated resorts (IR), was arrested and prosecuted for bribery. However, PM Abe has not called for accountability in any of these cases.

The Abe government made a Cabinet decision in July 2014 to allow Japan to exercise the collective self-defense right abroad which other postwar LDP governments had considered to be "constitutionally impossible". The Abe government, however, bulldozed through the national security-related legislation (aka. war laws), destroying Japan's postwar constitutionalism which requires the government or ruling parties to exert authority only within the bounds of the Constitution no matter if they won the majority of seats in elections.

The Abe government railroaded through the state secrets protection law in 2013 which infringes on people's constitutional right to have access to information, and the anti-conspiracy law in 2017 which breaches people's constitutional right to freedom of conscience.

PM Abe has consistently displayed his aspiration to implement amendments to the Constitution. In May 2017, he maneuvered to open a path for constitutional revision by expressing his intent to clarify the existence of Japan's Self-Defense Forces into Article 9 of the Constitution. However, in opposition to a possible limitless use of the right to collective self-defense, concerned citizens stood up and opposition parties began making joint efforts to foil the move, which has stopped the LDP from presenting its draft constitution to the Diet five times in a row since 2018.

Regarding the construction of a new U.S. base in Henoko in Okinawa, anti-base Onaga Takeshi became Okinawa Governor in November 2014, and anti-base Tamaki Denny became Onaga's successor in September 2018. In a prefectural referendum in February 2019 over Henoko reclamation work in preparation for the new base
construction, 72% of Okinawans expressed "opposition". Thus, Okinawans have repeatedly shown their overwhelming opposition to the new base. The Abe government, however, does not listen to their voices and keeps going ahead with the construction project.

The consumption tax rate increased twice under the Abe government without taking into account the worsening effect on people's livelihoods and a possible downturn in economy. The rate rose to 10% from 5%, leading to a burden of as much as 13 trillion yen onto the household economy and personal consumption.

The Abe government on one hand says that the consumption tax is used for social welfare services, but on the other hand it repeatedly trimmed down welfare services including pension, healthcare, and nursing-care programs. For seven years until fiscal 2019, an increase in burdens and a reduction in welfare benefits amounted to 4.3 trillion yen in total. Furthermore, adverse revision of labor laws resulted in the collapse of employment and the widening of social gaps and increase in poverty.

In contrast, the government increased military spending for eight consecutive years and budgeted a record-high 5.3 trillion yen in fiscal 2020.

The government economic policy called "Abenomics", in combination with Bank of Japan's "different dimension monetary easing policy" and tax breaks for large corporations, brought about huge profits only to the wealthy. As for workers, their actual wages kept going down.

The Abe government has touted its foreign policy as a "panoramic perspective of the world map". The government, however, continues to take the subordinate diplomatic policy.

Japan's subordination to the United States with a massive purchase of U.S.-made weapons, the liberalization of the Japanese farm produce market, and the dispatch of SDF units to the Middle East without Diet deliberation is abundantly clear.

Regarding China, Abe did not directly criticize the Chinese leadership for intruding into Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. Also, he does not speak up against escalating human rights abuses in Hong Kong under the Hong Kong National Security Law. Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide just expressed "regret" and "grave concern" over what is happening there. In sum, Japan has not said what it needs to say to China.

In territorial talks with Russia, the Abe government intended to settle the issue with the "return of only the two islands" of Habomai and Shikotan by renouncing Japan's sovereignty over the Chishima Archipelago.

Regarding the UN treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, the government continues to turn its back on A-bomb survivors (Hibakusha) calling for Japan's ratification of the treaty, and instead clings onto the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

In opposition to the Abe government's runaway policies, concerned citizens and opposition parties joined hands and have been advancing their joint efforts.

From civic movements opposing the national security-related legislation (aka. war laws), the earnest call for "Opposition parties, unite!" came out and increased. Pressed by this call, opposition parties began working together in and out of the Diet, which led to the realization of electoral cooperation among opposition parties in the 2016 House of Councilors election.

Through the Lower House election in 2017 and the Upper House election in 2019 followed by several mayoral elections as well as the two gubernatorial races in Kochi and Tokyo, the joint struggle between concerned citizens and opposition parties has developed further.

The world is now in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has revealed that Japan does not have enough public healthcare centers and its health system is vulnerable to effectively deal with crisis situations. Abe's neoliberal policy, the cause of these, has aroused criticism, and "a shift from neoliberalism" is now becoming a goal in common for opposition parties. The Abe government has undermined the Constitution's pacifism, constitutionalism, and democracy. In order to regain these progressive advances, it is necessary for opposition parties to unite to form a coalition government.

Past related articles:
> Shii demands PCR tests at COVID-19 epicenters [July 29, 2020]
> Shii demands postponement of 'Go To Travel' campaign [July 18, 2020]
> JCP protests the enactment of 'Hong Kong National Security Law' and calls for its withdrawal [July 1, 2020]
> 2 sitting Dietmembers arrested for vote buying [June 19, 2020]
> Many hospitals demand compensation for coronavirus-caused loss of earnings without delay [June 10, 2020]
> What is the problem with bill to revise Public Prosecutors' Office Act? [May 13, 2020]
> Constitution requires gov’t to compensate for loss of earnings due to COVID-19 spread [May 10, 2020]
> JCP issues urgent proposal on reopening of schools [June 3, 2020]
> Shii expresses concern over partial lifting of state emergency without implementing drastic improvement of PCR testing capacity [May 15, 2020]
> JCP: Cash benefits of 100,000 yen per capita practical [April 17, 2020]
> JCP Koike calls on gov’t to buy COVID-19 antibody testing kits rather than implementing ‘Abenomask’ plan [April 3 & 4, 2020]
> Casino Expo held in Yokohama amid police investigations into casino bribery scandal [January 30, 2020]
> 2020 draft budget sacrifices people’s welfare and livelihoods to fund military buildup [December 21, 2019]
> Opposition parties set up team to probe into cherry blossom-viewing party scandal involving Abe [November 12, 2019]
> METI Minister just one month after taking office resigns over money scandal [October 26, 2019]
> BOJ economic survey verifies how irrational consumption tax hike to 10% actually is [October 3, 2019]
> Okinawa confronts PM Abe with overwhelming ‘No’ in Henoko referendum [February 25, 2019]
> Gov’t attempt to continue ‘different dimension’ easy money policy will trap Japanese economy in hell [February 17, 2018]
> Shii: Diet discussions on ‘Moritomo’ and ‘Kake’ scandals without Abe is out of the question [July 6, 2017]
> Protests against forced passage of ‘anti-conspiracy’ bill take place nationwide [May 22, 2017]
> Don’t seal a pact on the return of only Habomais and Shikotan: JCP Koike [October 12, 2016]
> Abe explains collective self-defense differently at home and abroad [July 11, 2014]
> State secrets law closely resembles 1941 national defense security law [December 1, 2013]
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