An election that will chart Japan's future course
Which political party and which candidates should be entrusted to take the helm of this nation?
Today, Aug. 30, is the polling day for the 45th House of Representatives election. It is an election that will determine Japan's future path.
Voters must choose whether to continue under the current administration of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito, or to switch to a new administration centered on the Democratic Party of Japan.
The election campaign has focused not only on a straight evaluation of the accomplishments and policies of each party. Voters also have had to weigh up which party most deserves to govern.
The LDP had to fight the election campaign in the face of a strong voter backlash.
After an overwhelming victory in the lower house election in 2005 under the administration of then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the premiership changed hands three times, passing to Shinzo Abe, Yasuo Fukuda and then Taro Aso. The party was subject to persistent criticism for passing the reins of government from one party head to another.
Since taking power in September, Prime Minister Taro Aso showed himself to be inconsistent and indecisive at a number of crucial moments, such as when he failed to explain what the flat-sum cash benefit program was meant to achieve. Each time he floundered, he pushed down the LDP's approval rating.
For the DPJ, doubts have been raised over its ability to govern due to its composition--a motley collection of politicians from different parties ranging from conservatives on one side of the political spectrum to former members of the now-defunct Japan Socialist Party on the other.
In addition, some observers have expressed caution over the party's desire to form a coalition with the Social Democratic Party, which has very different national security policies from the DPJ.
Vote on policies, not feelings
Some observers have said that the vote likely will reflect dissatisfaction with the LDP or anxiety over the DPJ, rather than voters' active decision to continue with an administration formed of the LDP-Komeito coalition or move to one centered on the DPJ.
However, the results of the lower house election will have a direct bearing on this nation's future.
It cannot be correct to decide which party and politician to choose simply on the basis of one's discontent, anxiety or a fleeting emotion.
Policies must, first and foremost, be the key criteria for deciding who to vote for.
Each party conducted its campaign by first drawing up a platform covering the policies each would implement during the four-year House of Representatives term.
Policies on pensions, health care, child-rearing and education, which are of great interest to voters in this nation that is rapidly aging and has a very low birthrate, as well as funding for those policies, surfaced as major issues in the election campaign.
The LDP stressed it would introduce drastic reforms of the taxation system, including an increase of the consumption tax rate, to provide stable financing for the social security system. The LDP did not clarify when it would raise the consumption tax, saying only that it would occur after the nation achieved 2 percent year-on-year economic growth.
The DPJ listed many schemes that would provide direct payment of benefits to households as a way of boosting spending, such as child-rearing allowances. It said it would fund the measures by cutting spending in other areas, for example suspending nonessential projects. The party said it would not raise the consumption tax rate before the next lower house election.
Differences among the two key parties in the fields of diplomacy and national security are conspicuous, such as whether to press on with the Maritime Self-Defense Force's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.
It is important to calmly assess the persuasiveness of each party's policies. We hope voters will thoroughly examine each party's stance.
Choosing between the party leaders is as important as choosing policies.
If the LDP and Komeito secure a majority in the lower house, Aso will hang on to the premiership. If the DPJ and other opposition parties take a majority of the seats, DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama will be appointed prime minister.
Aso has criticized the DPJ's foreign and security policies as lax, stressing at the same time that only the LDP is able to govern responsibly.
Hatoyama, however, has said that a bureaucrat-led political system would continue if an LDP-led regime continued, and has pointed to the importance of a shift to an administration led by the DPJ, which he said would be more people-focused.
Unless the lower house is unexpectedly dissolved or the prime minister is replaced, this lower house election will select a leader who will guide this nation for the next four years. We hope that voters will consider the remarks Aso and Hatoyama have made during the election campaign.
Will the young vote?
In the polling booth, voters have to write down on the ballot paper the name of the political party they wish to vote for in the proportional representation block and the name of their preferred candidate for the single-seat constituency. The qualifications of each candidate to be a lawmaker is an important element to consider when making this judgment.
If a candidate was an incumbent lower house lawmaker prior to the dissolution of the Diet, his or her past achievements and Diet performance can, of course, be used to make this decision. If a candidate is running for the first time, voters are recommended to carefully study the candidate's political views contained in public bulletins published during campaigning.
In a democracy, ultimate power rests with the people. We hope each voter will cast his or her vote responsibly, after comprehensively judging each party's policies, each party leader's competence and each candidate's insight.
The number of people who already have cast their ballot in early voting prior to Sunday's lower house election has dramatically increased. This indicates high interest in the election. A recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey showed that 79 percent of those polled said they definitely would vote.
Among those in their 20s, however, the figure stood at just 56 percent. It is extremely regrettable if younger people feel that "politics won't change even if we vote" and have given up hope.
Social security system reform and job-creation measures, which once again emerged as major points of contention in the election, are issues that no one can remain indifferent to.
We hope young people will go to the polls and exercise their right to choose their future.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 30, 2009)