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Politics

Abe presses ahead with prosecutors' law change despite opposition

Public protest on Twitter, as leader faces rising criticism over virus management

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing widespread opposition to his plan to amend the law to allow top prosecutors to stay in post until they turn 65, from the current 63. 

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is standing by his proposal to delay the retirement of top prosecutors despite an avalanche of protests from the public and opposition who fear that the legal amendment would affect the impartiality of the Public Prosecutors Office.

At the center of the tussle is Hiromu Kurokawa, head of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office and an Abe ally. The administration decided at a cabinet meeting in January to delay his retirement by revising the law, paving the way for the promotion of Kurokawa to the top post at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office.

Opposition lawmakers claim that the revision to push back the retirement age of prosecutors by two years to 65 would allow the government to poke its nose into the personnel management of the office. But the outrage is also widespread on social networking services, with celebrities also wading in to criticize the decision.

The revision is now being debated in parliament, Japan's Diet, and the government has said it wants to ultimately have the power to push back the retirement age by up to three years.

During Monday's Diet session, Abe, already under fierce criticism for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, said the revision was necessary to "make the most of officials with knowledge and experience to deal with administrative issues which are growing complicated and sophisticated."

Opposition parties charge that the administration has changed the legal interpretation in its favor by keeping an ally in a position of power.

The proposed revision is "a grave problem that could run counter to the independence of the three branches of government as the cabinet could arbitrarily control the personnel management of the Public Prosecutors Office," said Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

With the fight against the coronavirus outbreak still underway, the revision "is not a matter that should be decided amid confusion," Edano said.

The public took to Twitter to voice their opposition to the bill over the weekend, ahead of the start of parliamentary debate, under a hashtag in Japanese that translated roughly into "I protest the revision of the Public Prosecutors Office Law."

That hashtag gained over 38 million followers and trended on Sunday. Actor Kyoko Koizumi, author Daigo and singer Kyary Pamyu Pamyu were all thought to have posted messages under the hashtag. More than 2,000 lawyers, including former heads of the Japan Federation of Bar Association, also voiced opposition to the bill.

The Abe administration is already under strain for its handling of the pandemic. Critics said that the government was too slow to act and failed to enforce any meaningful social distancing.

A joint opinion poll conducted from Friday to Sunday by Nikkei and TV Tokyo showed that 55% of respondents were unhappy with the Abe administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, up 11 percentage points from the previous poll and the highest since the survey started in February.

In response to the Twitter protests, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on Tuesday: "We are aware that there are various opinions. We are trying to make detailed explanations in the Diet deliberations."

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