The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, does not like critical voices. He has just refused to endorse the appointment to the country’s Scientific Council of six professors recommended by this institution. It is the first time that a head of government refuses to take into account the recommendations of the Council for the renewal of its members.
Without the slightest explanation of the reasons for the rejection of these well-known personalities in the field of research in political science, law, history and religion, this decision is due more to the prince than to respect for the process guaranteeing the independence of this institution representing 840 000 researchers from all disciplines responsible for advising the government on academic matters and for strengthening ties with similar international organizations.
The Prime Minister’s veto sparked an outcry. According to the daily Mainichi, Mr. Suga’s veto constitutes a “Political intervention which may threaten the freedom of academic research”. A petition is circulating calling on the Prime Minister to respect the recommendations of the Scientific Council, and its president, Takaaki Kajita, Nobel Prize winner in physics in 2015, has personally delivered to the Prime Minister a letter asking him to reconsider his decision and, at least , give the reasons. According to government spokesperson Katsunobu Kato, “Mr. Suga acted within the law and he does not have to justify a choice.” He added that “The Prime Minister does not hear[ait] not go back on this decision ”.
Masanaori Okada, professor of administrative law at Waseda University, argues in the daily Asahi that the Scientific Council is “An independent body and that it is unacceptable for the Prime Minister to decide who is or is not deserving of membership.” For Mr. Kajita, “The Council makes its decisions based on the work of researchers. This principle must not be called into question ”. During a press briefing on Monday, October 6, Mr. Suga said his decision “Had nothing political”.
Although legally placed under the supervision of the Prime Minister, the Council formally submits the nomination of members to the chief executive, who until now endorsed his choices. At least that was what the then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said in 1983. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mr Suga’s predecessor, intended to change the method of appointing members of the Council, but he had not implemented this de facto stranglehold by the executive on an institution guaranteeing the freedom of research academic.
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