Political parties to be tested on their ability to deliver
The public's attention has recently been directed to whether the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will continue to lead the government or the two main opposition forces, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, will return to power. The focus has also been on the extent to which Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other new political parties can expand their influence.
The upcoming House of Representatives election is expected to be critical as it could chart the course for the nation's future.
On Friday, the lower house was dissolved. The general election is set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4. For all intents and purposes, the election battle has effectively kicked off.
In the election, the DPJ will be evaluated on its performance during its three-year rule by three prime ministers since Yukio Hatoyama.
Noda recognized for bold acts
During the 2009 lower house election campaign, the potential for a change in government was high, and the DPJ earned a stunning victory. But many voters appear to be suffering from the present political disorder and a decision-making stalemate as result of the party's win.
There are plenty of issues that the DPJ has mishandled. These include diplomatic missteps by the Hatoyama Cabinet when it pursued politician-led handling of state affairs in the wrong way and the ineptitude of Naoto Kan's administration in addressing the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
At a press conference Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said: "I previously said I would ask for a public mandate once the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems was achieved. I dissolved [the lower house] to fulfill this promise."
It is indeed a historic accomplishment that the prime minister was able to pass integrated reform bills, which center on bills to raise the consumption tax rate, in the divided Diet, where the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition. We can understand that he respected an agreement with the LDP and Komeito, which cooperated with Noda's party to enact the historic bills.
We also applaud Noda for following through with the dissolution even though many of DPJ members, including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, opposed the breakup of the chamber and election prospects were dim for the party.
The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has also been declining. In a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey, the rating plunged to 19 percent, the lowest since the Cabinet's inauguration in September of last year. Furthermore, DPJ members continue to leave the party, with no end in sight to the defections.
Noda said at the press conference Friday: "We have an ongoing political situation in which we are unable to make decisions. By dissolving [the lower house], I'd like to put an end to this evil practice."
Regardless of the election outcome, the Diet will remain divided at least until next summer's upper house election, as no party holds a majority of seats in the chamber. To move politics forward, it is essential for parties to cooperate with one another or form a coalition.
Interparty cooperation needed
The increase in the consumption tax is only halfway complete based on the agreement by the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. To achieve the intended reform of the social security and tax systems, the three parties are likely to be urged to maintain their cooperative stance after the election.
A stable government with either of the two major parties at its center is needed most for Japan's revival. We consider it unfavorable to have a coalition government consisting of multiple parties since consensus building would be slow going.
However, several new parties, including Ishin no Kai and Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), recently have emerged one after another, aiming to become a third political force following the DPJ and the LDP.
With the unprecedented number of more than 10 parties campaigning, efforts are also under way to unite them. The new parties aim to attract voters frustrated with established political parties.
Many former lower house members who have just lost their Diet seats due to the dissolution are quitting the parties they belonged to and joining new parties, in an apparent attempt to survive the upcoming general election. We must seek to find the true value of a potential third political force.
We expect each party to clarify its vision for the future of Japan and list its policies according to priority.
The public has completely lost faith in the DPJ's manifesto made in the 2009 lower house election. The party's unfulfilled handout policy pledges, such as the child-rearing allowance of 26,000 yen per month and the abolition of expressway tolls, have failed to materialize due to a lack of financing. This has only led to an amplification of voters' distrust in politics.
Parties must not repeat the mistake of competing with each other to win an election by making policy promises that appeal to voters, but which are unfeasible.
In drafting new election pledges, parties should consider that a bill could fail without the cooperation of other parties in the divided Diet. Only setting deadlines for realizing election promises and other numerical targets is meaningless.
Noda again stressed his policy to achieve zero nuclear power generation in the 2030s.
The upcoming election will determine "whether the party aiming to depart from the nation's dependence on nuclear power or the party promoting the conventional energy policy will win," said the prime minister.
Policies must be scrutinized
People's Life First, Your Party and Ishin no Kai also advocate denuclearization as one of their policies.
However, we doubt zero nuclear power generation is a realistic policy. Many issues must be resolved before such a target can be achieved, such as securing alternative energy sources, raising electricity rates, and addressing the negative effects on the economy and employment.
The LDP plans to support nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed, with a pledge by the government to accept responsibility for their reactivation. We expect the LDP to present its medium- to long-term energy policy in detail.
Additionally, there are a number of other important issues that should be addressed, such as a growth strategy for reviving the Japanese economy; Japan's possible participation in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact; social security; territorial and sovereignty matters; and national security.
Voters should carefully scrutinize the respective candidates' policies and capabilities to execute them so they can make an informed choice without regret.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 17, 2012)