News Analysis: Japan's Suga faces first major challenge in office over rejection of nominees to top advisory body

Source: Xinhua| 2020-10-16 19:18:07|Editor: huaxia
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TOKYO, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- The approval rating for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's Cabinet stood at 55 percent, 7 points less than the previous survey last month, according to a latest poll.

Suga has been in office for a month on Friday since his predecessor Shinzo Abe stepped down for health reasons.

Some analysts believe that the significant fall of the support rate of the new cabinet is closely related to the continuing dispute over Suga's rejection to appoint six nominees to the Science Council of Japan, who had a record of past criticism of government policies.

The incident poses the first major challenge for Suga's government and could affect its performance and even the political trends of Japan, said analysts.

When Suga took office last month, he said the new government's top priority was to control the COVID-19 outbreak and revive the economy. However, the Science Council controversy has distracted the new government from these issues.

On Oct. 1, Suga did not appoint six of the 105 nominees who were set to join the council. Japanese leaders have been naming members of the council as recommended by its members since 2004, based on the country's law and the organization's protocols.

Suga's refusal to appoint the six members is the first time since 2004 that a prime minister has decided against appointing nominees.

According to local media, all the refused members have high status in the Japanese academic and legal circles, and have publicly opposed the constitutional amendments and the controversial security legislation under the Abe administration. Some media once referred to these scholars as a "thorn in the side" of Japan's right-wing forces.

While the Suga government has not disclosed the reasons, it is widely believed that the refusal have relations with the anti-war stance of the scholars. The move has not only provoked indignation of the Science Council of Japan, but also protests from many academic groups, prominent scholars and opposition parties.

So far, about 350 academic groups have issued statements to protest. Among them, Association of Scholars Opposed to the Security-related Laws held a press conference on Wednesday, urging the government to appoint the six candidates as soon as possible.

Seigo Hirowatari, former chief of the Science Council of Japan, among 58 people including the refused scholars, jointly signed a statement labeling the prime minister's move "an illegal act."

Founded in 1949, the Science Council of Japan is known as the "Diet of scholars." It makes policy proposals independently of the government and is funded from the government budget. The organization now has 210 members representing all academic fields, with half of them changing every three years.

Japan's Nobel physics prize winner Toshihide Masukawa also criticized Suga. "Prime Minister Suga will go down in history for doing such an outrageous thing," he said. "It leaves a stain on the Science Council of Japan, which was established based on lessons from the war."

Faced with questions and criticism, Suga stressed that he would not reconsider the appointment. Some analysts believe that the dispute has dented the popularity of the new cabinet to a certain extent.

According to a latest survey conducted by Japan's public broadcaster NHK, the approval rating for Suga's Cabinet stood at 55 percent, 7 points less than the previous survey, while the disapproval rate rose 7 points to 20 percent. Meanwhile, nearly half of the respondents found it difficult to accept Suga's refusal to appoint the six scholars.

The incident has also raised concerns about the political future from both inside and outside the government. According to local media, some members of the ruling coalition partner Komeito said Suga's move may have a negative impact on the administration.

As an extraordinary session of the Diet will be convened Oct. 26, the new cabinet will likely face tough questioning and attack from the opposition, which may even affect the prime minister's judgment on the timing of the dissolution of the lower house.

Suga's cabinet has claimed to follow Abe's path, which means that it will push forward the constitutional amendments that the previous government failed to complete.

Some local media have suggested that the Science Council controversy could be an attempt by the new government to silence academic voices opposing constitutional amendments, and the backlash could undermine the constitutional agenda of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

According to some analysts, if the dispute continues to escalate, it will likely to impact the governance of the new government and Japan's political stability. Enditem