Voters deserve a clear presentation of policies
Official campaigning for the House of Representatives election kicked off Tuesday. This is an extremely important contest, the outcome of which will steer the future course of the nation.
We hope that each voter, political party and candidate will carry an awareness of the significance of this election and fulfill their respective responsibilities in it.
The nation faces a number of difficult and serious problems.
The world economy appears to be emerging from the business downturn that struck the globe at the same time, but has yet to reach full-fledged recovery. How to put the nation's economy on a recovery path while taking into consideration the worsening employment situation is a pressing problem.
With the declining birthrate combined with the aging of the population, the assumption of a social security system supported by a steadily growing economy no longer holds water. It is necessary to work on a new mechanism that addresses benefits and burdens and to reconstruct a sustainable system to realize it.
The security environment surrounding the nation has grown more severe. North Korea is accelerating its nuclear and ballistic missile development and China is aiming to be a military superpower.
How can the nation's peace and security be ensured? Appropriate ways to solve these pressing issues should be a key point of contention in the election.
Priorities of the 2 coalitions
Each political party and candidate needs to present fresh visions for the nation and the policies needed to realize them so that voters can have clear choices.
Both the ruling and opposition parties are presenting their ideas of a government with the notion that they will be establishing ruling coalitions.
A good way to see which policies a future government would give priority to is to look at the common policies of the current ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and the common policies of three opposition parties--the Democratic Party of Japan, the Social Democratic Party and People's New Party.
As their growth strategy, the ruling parties have pledged in their common campaign platform to create domestic demand worth 40 trillion yen to 60 trillion yen and secure 2 million jobs over the next three years. They specify that they will implement drastic tax reforms--including raising the consumption tax rate once the economy recovers--to ensure a stable financial resource for social security programs.
Though the pledge carries the responsible attitude of a ruling party toward tackling economic recovery and financial reconstruction in two stages, the presentation's concrete measures to realize these policies have not been made clear. The two parties need to provide a more understandable explanation of this to voters.
The three opposition parties tout as their top policy priority the support of household budget concerns, such as directly providing child-rearing allowances and free high school education. They aim to increase disposable incomes and spur economic growth through domestic demand. They also say they would leave the current consumption tax rate unchanged until the next lower house election.
Promises must be paid for
If the opposition parties were to implement these new policies, estimated to cost about 16.8 trillion yen a year, it would indeed bring about a certain expansion in domestic demand. But there is no denying that the ideas presented regarding domestic demand-led growth were made hastily, as evidenced by the common criticisms that the plans are "pork-barrel policies" and "lack future growth strategy."
Since it was first presented, a fundamental question of whether the opposition parties can really secure this 16.8 trillion yen a year only through cuts in wasteful spending has not been cleared up.
In the fields of foreign policy and national security, the ruling parties stipulated the continuation of the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and antipiracy mission off Somalia.
Both missions are important activities for Japan to assume its role in the international community's fight against terrorism, and to reinforce its alliance with the United States.
On the other hand, the three opposition parties have made no reference to foreign and national security policy issues in their common policy.
This is primarily because of the large difference in the positions taken by the three parties, with, for instance, the SDP opposed to the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces abroad. Yet this is merely an attempt at postponing the solving of thorny issues until after the election.
Should the three parties form a coalition government, while leaving their stances on such a fundamental issue murky, will they be able to pursue a responsible foreign policy and protect the national interest?
It is important for parties to deepen their discussion on foreign affairs and national security through the election campaign.
View of the past
Another vital point is how to sum up the track record of the ruling coalition government of the LDP and New Komeito since the previous lower election four years ago.
The ruling parties suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Councillors election in 2007. Ever since, the Diet has been divided with the DPJ-led forces dominating the upper house and the ruling coalition parties controlling the lower house--sending the Diet's business into disarray.
As a matter of course, the ruling parties' major defeat stemmed from the problems involving the ruling coalition government, including the sloppy management of public pension data by the Social Insurance Agency and the opaque reports of office expenses of political fund management organizations of Cabinet members.
Yet, the DPJ may also carry grave responsibility for the political turmoil under the divided Diet, as the party, under the leadership of Ichiro Ozawa, pursued a strategy of all-out confrontation with the ruling parties.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his successor Yasuo Fukuda both abandoned their administrations about one year after taking office, making apparent the LDP's declining ability to govern.
Meanwhile, successive DPJ leaders Seiji Maehara and Ichiro Ozawa also resigned to take responsibility for scandals that damaged the party, with Maehara quitting over a DPJ lawmaker using a faked e-mail to make spurious accusations against a relative of an LDP Diet member, and Ozawa stepping down over false records of political fund donation, incidents that increased people's distrust of politics.
Both the ruling and opposition camp should bear in mind that it is their joint responsibility to rebuild the public's trust.
Future of nation at stake
A change of government, as the DPJ asserts, is an important element for realizing a sound parliamentary democracy.
Yet the crucial point is not a "change of government" per se, but how the nation's politics should be changed through changes in the government.
The upcoming election is the third time the lower house poll has been fought based on the political parties' respective policy platforms they intend to pursue if they come to power.
Their policy pledges cover a wide range of issues and include a lot of highly technical matters. Voters should not be bewildered by mere make-believe populist policies, campaign tactics or fleeting sociopolitical atmosphere of the moment.
Voters must think carefully and consider the issues from multiple angles to grasp the pros and cons of the parties' policies level-headedly and choose the administration.
The upcoming lower house election is an important opportunity for us to think seriously about the future course of the nation and push the nation's politics forward.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 19, 2009)