Parties should be open to revising election vows
Obviously, it is important for politicians to try to stick to election pledges. However, if they treat pledges as if they are set in stone, they may face problems in meeting their political obligations.
The Aug. 30 poll will be the third House of Representatives election for which political parties have announced their policy platforms, along with proposed revenue sources and deadlines for implementation, since the practice began in 2003.
Academics who proposed such an approach have stressed the need to review previous election pledges each time a lower house election is held.
In keeping with this goal, a number of organizations recently held a joint meeting to rate the degree to which the ruling bloc has met manifesto pledges laid out ahead of the 2005 lower house election.
The organizations were critical of the ruling parties, saying that the structural reform drive promoted by the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had been gradually adjusted over the past four years.
However, when judging the ruling parties' success, it is dangerous to simply focus on whether the points as laid out in their manifestos four years ago have been attained.
Changing realities of reform
The negative effects of Koizumi's reform drive, such as widening social and economic disparities, started to become evident after the last lower house election in 2005. In addition, the country later entered a dramatic economic downturn as a result of the global economic crisis that began last autumn.
If cabinets that succeeded the Koizumi administration had continued belt-tightening policies--neglecting economic current conditions and failing to take into account problems resulting from market-based structural reforms, such as widening disparities--the Japanese economy likely would have been thrown into chaos.
It is therefore essential to maintain flexibility and a willingness to modify policies in response to changing economic and political realities.
At the same time, it is important for policymakers to offer a clear explanation to voters of why such adjustments are necessary.
However, simply judging the ruling parties' pledges while ignoring the implications of the opposition's proposals also is questionable--the Democratic Party of Japan is battling with the ruling parties for power in the upcoming lower house race, and it is therefore only right that its policy pledges come in for scrutiny.
DPJ must be flexible
The DPJ stated in its 2005 manifesto that the party would "undertake" a revision of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement with a view to having U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture relocated out of the country.
But if the DPJ had seized power in the 2005 election and followed through with its election pledges, cracks would have been created in Japan-U.S. relations. Acceptance of this reality is evident in the DPJ's decision to change the phrasing regarding the bilateral accord from "undertake" to "propose" and drop the reference to relocation overseas in its latest manifesto.
Of course, it is not right to judge the DPJ's pledges solely on their consistency--if positive changes are made they should be welcomed.
The DPJ reportedly plans to modify wording on decentralization and a Japan-U.S. free trade agreement in its election pledges.
Apart from this, there are some pledges whose feasibility is doubtful and which are written in an extremely ambiguous way, especially on security and global environment issues, among others.
The party must therefore continue to carefully examine and reflect on its manifesto pledges until the election is officially announced, and it must not hesitate to revise them if necessary.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 8, 2009)