The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 23, 2012)
With Noda reelected, DPJ must reconfirm 3-party pact
By the numbers, it was a landslide victory, but considering the difficulty of the tasks ahead, the win can only be seen as bittersweet.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was reelected as Democratic Party of Japan president on Friday. Former Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi and the two other challengers only managed to garner about one-third of the votes between them.
At the cost of splitting the ruling party, the prime minister pushed legislation through the Diet to comprehensively revamp the social security and tax systems, reforms that are essential for Japan's revitalization. Noda's reelection is a clear sign that DPJ members endorse the agreement to work together toward reform made between the three major political parties--the DPJ, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.
Noda's stance endorsed
In a speech after winning the election, Noda called for party unity, telling DPJ members, "I'd like to work with all of you to make a country where smiling faces are everywhere."
We think the party should now unite behind its newly reelected leader.
However, it was disappointing that the DPJ presidential candidates did not conduct a meaningful policy debate.
Noda has been supportive of Japan participating in talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, but he hedged his remarks on the issue during the campaign, only acknowledging that the discussions with other countries are ongoing. He did not address the issue directly around his rivals, who were either against the TPP or had adopted cautious positions.
The prime minister was probably concerned that pushing for TPP participation would cause more DPJ members to bolt. However, the decision should not be put off any longer, and we urge the government to join the TPP negotiations as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Noda supported the goal of eliminating nuclear power in the nation in the 2030s. "I want to unswervingly promote various measures in line with this basic policy," he said, while Haraguchi and the other candidates proposed an even earlier target date.
However, it is worrying that the four candidates hardly touched on the formidable challenges that could arise from reducing the nation's reliance on nuclear power to zero, such as negative impacts on the economy and foreign affairs, as well as how to maintain consistency with already existing policies such as a nuclear fuel-cycle policy.
They appeared enamored with the belief that touting the zero nuclear policy would work to their advantage in an election. As prospective leaders of the ruling party, we see such actions as irresponsible.
The debate over how to buffer low-income earners from the impact of a consumption tax hike also was mostly left alone, although two contenders--Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano, both former agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministers--proposed implementing reduced tax rates on certain items.
We lament that the DPJ missed an opportunity to set the direction for several key issues through its leadership election.
Thornier path ahead
Although he emerged victorious, Noda faces even more difficulties than before the election in steering the ship of state.
A total of 114 ballots were cast against Noda in the party leadership race.
In the debates prior to the election, Kano criticized Noda by calling for a "stronger culture of responsibility in the DPJ," while Haraguchi called for Noda "to take responsibility for causing the party to split more than once."
Seeking any possible advantage in the next House of Representatives election, DPJ members have continued to move away from the party to join the new Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other emerging political forces.
If around 10 more DPJ lower house lawmakers were to leave, the party would lose its majority in the powerful chamber, even counting the seats held by its coalition partner, the People's New Party. This would leave the ruling camp vulnerable to a no-confidence motion against the Cabinet proposed by the opposition.
In such circumstances, the prime minister walks a tightrope in navigating political issues, and must maintain a precarious balance between preserving party unity and addressing difficult policy tasks.
At this stage, it is vitally important that the tripartite framework between the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito be kept intact.
In the divided Diet, where the opposition controls the House of Councillors, no bill stands a chance without cooperation between the three parties.
The prime minister has said he will make a preliminary decision on a reshuffle of the DPJ leadership by Monday, when he leaves for the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
The focal point in the reshuffle is whether Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi will retain his post. Noda appointed Koshiishi to the No. 2 post last year to help ensure party unity.
Koshiishi, however, has clashed often with the opposition over Diet affairs, including during the deliberations over the social security and tax system reform. Koshiishi's behavior highlighted the differences between his views and Noda's.
We urge Noda in reshuffling his party's executive lineup to place more importance on promoting cooperation between the ruling and opposition camps, instead of sticking only to crafting a strategy relating to dissolving the lower house for a general election.
The prime minister has also expressed an intention to meet with the new leader of the LDP, who will be elected in the largest opposition party's presidential contest Wednesday, to reconfirm the three-party reform accord.
We see a meeting in which the heads of the three main parties can exchange views on key political challenges as highly significant.
We hope the three party chiefs will have a candid discussion over such issues as how to rectify vote disparities in lower house elections, legislation for issuing deficit-covering bonds, and the compilation of a supplementary budget for fiscal 2012.
Start by cutting 5 seats
Concerning reform of the lower house's electoral system, the DPJ caused considerable consternations in the Diet by proposing, over strong objection from the opposition, legislation that included partial adoption of a seat-allocation formula for proportional representation elections that would favor small and midsize parties. The ruling party should not repeat such a sloppy, irresponsible act.
Noda in a news conference showed he is willing to tackle the task of slashing the number of seats in the lower house.
Before anything else, it would be practical to cut five single-seat districts to end the "state of unconstitutionality" in vote disparities. This would pave the way for dissolution of the lower house.
There is a high possibility that any talks between the three party heads would include on the agenda the prime minister's pledge to dissolve the lower house for a general election "sometime soon."
Noda has hinted that a general election should be postponed because "the political situation has changed" after the passage of an opposition-backed censure motion against him in the upper house. However, neither the LDP nor Komeito has backed off their demands for an early lower house dissolution.
Given this, we suspect the prime minister will have a difficult time unilaterally scrapping his pledge to dissolve the lower house.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 22, 2012)