3 main parties must ensure reform bills pass upper house
The House of Representatives passed bills on integrated reform of the social security and tax systems at a plenary meeting Tuesday. This marked a significant step toward the nation's fiscal reconstruction and social security reform.
The set of bills--with an increase in the consumption tax rate as the centerpiece--was approved by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and its junior partner, People's New Party, and also by the two main opposition parties, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
We applaud the fact that nearly 80 percent of lower house legislators voted for the bills on the consumption tax increase.
The nation's political parties should ensure the bills pass the House of Councillors. This will require breaking free from the kind of politics that has prevented leaders from making hard decisions.
It was disappointing that as many as 57 DPJ lawmakers--mostly from groups led by former party President Ichiro Ozawa--voted against the consumption tax hike bills.
If 54 or more DPJ lawmakers leave the party, the ruling coalition would lose its majority in the lower house and become a minority government.
The ruling party's effective breakup over the bills is proof that its executives lack leadership skills.
Take action against rebels
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will face more hardships in managing his administration if the ruling coalition becomes a minority government. While preserving his party's agreement on the reform bills with the LDP and Komeito, Noda should urgently rebuild the DPJ, which has been dysfunctional as a ruling party.
Deciding how to deal with Ozawa and other dissidents should be his first step.
When Ozawa's supporters held a meeting after the vote, they agreed to leave their next move in Ozawa's hands. "I'll have to make a decision soon," he reportedly said.
Ozawa apparently aims to shake up Noda's administration further with an eye on leaving the DPJ to form a new party.
On the surface, Ozawa insists that top priority should be placed on issues related to people's daily lives--a phrase the party trumpeted in its manifesto for the 2009 lower house election. Dig a little deeper, however, and it seems he is only interested in ensuring his and his group members' survival with an eye on the next lower house election.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama also voted against the consumption tax increase bills, saying the issue was not among the policies proposed in the manifesto. Hatoyama acted as if he owned the DPJ when he then said he would not leave the party.
Hatoyama himself should seriously reflect on his role in misleading the public by promoting the impractical manifesto.
The DPJ's immature and vague policymaking process was not the only factor behind such a large number of lawmakers joining the rebellion. Part of the blame can be laid with Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, who hinted before the vote that the party would give only lenient punishments to members who defied the DPJ leaders.
The DPJ has never expelled members just because they rebelled against the party's leadership in voting. However, passage of the comprehensive reform bills is something that Noda declared he would stake his political life on.
As a condition for his party's cooperation in Diet deliberations on the reform bills, LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki called on the DPJ leaders to strictly punish the dissenting lawmakers.
Noda expressed his intention to come down hard on the rebels. We think the DPJ top brass should impose severe punishments as soon as possible. In particular, it does not need to show any restraint in dealing with Ozawa, who has gone as far as suggesting he will establish a new party.
The DPJ's relationship of trust with the LDP and Komeito will be undermined unless it takes definite disciplinary action against the rebels. The possibility cannot be ruled out that further revolts will occur during upcoming votes in the upper house.
Tripartite cooperation significant
At a news conference after Tuesday's vote, Noda said: "We can no longer keep passing debts on to future generations. Securing stable fiscal resources for social security programs and getting the nation's fiscal conditions back on a sound footing is the point of carrying out the integrated reform."
State debts, including those accruing from the issuance of government bonds and borrowings, amounted to about 960 trillion yen as of March 31, 2012. This is more than 7.5 million yen for every person in Japan. Furthermore, the social security budget will record a natural increase of 1 trillion yen a year as the population continues to age.
It is obvious to everyone that state finances cannot be sustained by borrowing more money to pay off debts.
Noda was forced to reshuffle his Cabinet twice this year. This is one example that shows his clumsy management of the government. But on the issue of integrated reform, he has pushed ahead without flinching. He should be lauded for this.
It is undeniable that Noda could not have come up with a scenario for legislating the reform bills without the cooperation of the LDP and Komeito.
The two opposition parties joined talks with the DPJ on revisions of the bills even though there was no guarantee the lower house would be dissolved for a general election, and voted for the bills. This was a wrenching choice for the parties to make. The LDP and Komeito, it can be said, displayed a responsible attitude befitting parties that held power for many years as a coalition government.
There are still hurdles to overcome before the final passage of the bills. But they will clear the Diet if the DPJ, LDP and Komeito maintain their "partial coalition."
Electoral reform urgent
In the upper house, discussions must be deepened on more efficient budget spending, such as cuts in social security benefits, as well as how to lift the national economy out of deflation. To help low-income earners, who will be affected more acutely by a consumption tax increase, introduction of reduced tax rates on some items should be studied.
The three parties must tackle other pending issues in addition to the integrated reform bills. It will be necessary to pass a special bill for the issuance of deficit-covering bonds.
Reform of the lower house electoral system must not be left on the back burner.
The disparity of vote values between some constituencies under the current system has been judged by the Supreme Court as being in "an unconstitutional state."
However, no concrete steps have been taken to rectify this situation, which can only be described as dereliction on the part of the ruling and opposition parties.
In cooperating with the LDP and Komeito, the DPJ should give priority to correcting the vote value disparity by quickly implementing a plan to cut single-seat constituencies from five prefectures without increasing seats in other prefectures.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2012)