Japan's major opposition parties on Thursday stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to convene an extra Diet session and address public confusion stemming from his government's coronavirus response.
The opposition bloc is dissatisfied with Abe, who they say has not fulfilled his responsibility to explain in his own words about recent policy decisions, including a last-minute flip-flop over a travel promotion initiative, and the government's recovery efforts in areas in southwestern Japan hit by heavy rain.
During talks on Thursday, the four opposition parties' leaders decided to submit a formal request to lower house speaker Tadamori Oshima on Friday for a parliamentary session to be held in line with a constitutional provision.
"The government and the ruling coalition have not responded to our calls for the prime minister to engage in off-session parliamentary debates," Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters.
"They should convene the Diet as soon as possible," he said.
Article 53 of the Japanese Constitution states that the cabinet must decide to convene an extra parliamentary session when demanded but it does not set a deadline.
The Abe administration did not take heed of such requests made in 2015 and 2017, and it is seen as reluctant to accept this time and convene the Diet at an early date after a 150-day regular session ended in mid-June.
"We are in a national crisis. If the prime minister does not convene a parliamentary session, it will mean that he has abandoned the people of Japan," Yuichiro Tamaki, who heads the Democratic Party for the People, told reporters.
The opposition bloc also includes the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party.
The joint move by the opposition comes as the Abe administration is seeking to allow more economic and social activities to resume while keeping the spread of the virus in check.
The abrupt exclusion of trips to Tokyo and by its residents from the government's "Go To" subsidy program due to a surge in coronavirus cases in the Japanese capital sparked confusion among travelers and travel agencies earlier in the month.
The administration is also considering putting off its plan to distribute another 80 million cloth face masks, which have proven unpopular in some quarters, to nursing care and other facilities as questions were raised about its necessity.
Opposition lawmakers are pointing to it as another example of the government being out of touch with the public after the distribution of "Abenomasks" to all households, a pun on the prime minister's "Abenomics" economic program, was criticized for wasting taxpayers' money and the quality of the masks was deemed poor.
The Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday confirmed a single-day record of 367 novel coronavirus infections, with over 34,000 cases reported so far nationwide. The tally includes about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off Yokohama in February.
The rising trend of coronavirus cases in Japan has raised public concern, though the government maintains that there is no need for a state of emergency to be declared again.
An extraordinary Diet session is expected to be held this fall and some lawmakers speculate that Abe will move to dissolve the House of Representatives for an election. The current four-year term for lower house members will end in October 2021.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga shot down such speculation on Thursday.
"It will be quite difficult," Suga said during the recording of a TV program when asked about the possibility that the lower chamber will be dissolved. "The public would want us to concentrate on (fighting) the coronavirus and preventing it from spreading further."© KYODO