National revitalization, end to political stagnation crucial
Voting today in the 46th House of Representatives election provides people with an important opportunity to choose a new political alignment that will bear the responsibility of charting the nation's future course.
It is hoped voters will cast their precious vote after examining the policies, capabilities and disposition of each party and candidate.
The world is going through drastic changes. This year, new regimes were inaugurated in China, North Korea, Russia, France and a number of other countries. U.S. President Barack Obama was reelected for a second term, and South Korea will elect a new president on Wednesday.
We should not allow only Japan to lag under our nation's climate of political indecisiveness.
Reviving the vigor of the nation's political system is the first and most urgent task if Japan wants to overcome deflation and the strong yen, attain both economic resuscitation and fiscal reconstruction, strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and rebuild its diplomacy vis-a-vis other Asian countries.
The lower house election is for voters to choose an administration to lead the country. The biggest focal point in this poll is whether the Democratic Party of Japan-led alliance will continue to hold the reins of government or a coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito will retake the helm.
The DPJ is facing a strong headwind. It made a historical achievement when it enabled a package of bills related to the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems to pass through the Diet. But the party's campaign pledges for 2009 lower house election were in tatters, and its pledge of "taking key roles in the decision-making process away from bureaucrats and putting them into the hands of politicians" was only an empty slogan that caused much political confusion. We believe these factors are playing against the DPJ.
12 parties field candidates
We highly commend the LDP with regard to the support it gave to allow the passage of the bills on the integrated reform of social security and tax systems even though it was an opposition party.
But the LDP failed to act like a responsible party in some cases when it resisted entering deliberations on bills and jolted the DPJ-led government by presenting censure motions--all tactics engineered by exploiting the divided Diet, in which the ruling bloc lacks a majority of seats in the House of Councillors.
This election saw candidates fielded by 12 parties--the biggest number since the current election system that combines single-seat constituencies and a proportional representation system was introduced in 1996. This resulted from splits within the DPJ and the inroads into national politics made by regional parties.
Before this election campaign officially kicked off on Dec. 4, new parties vying to form a "third political force" were formed or merged one after another. They undeniably put priority on these moves as an election strategy, with coordination of their policies and political philosophy taking a back seat.
To which party and candidate should we entrust our votes to reflect our will? The credibility of campaign pledges was severely hurt with the DPJ's botched efforts, but we should pay attention most to parties' policies.
With the ever-graying society, declining birthrate and worsening fiscal conditions, the role of the government is shifting from distributing benefits to distributing burdens. We should closely examine if parties' policies are backed up by concrete plans for revenue sources and if they have presented ways to realize their policies.
In regard to economic policy, an area of particular interest to the public, the DPJ in its election platform set the goal of a nominal 3 percent year-on-year growth rate, or around 2 percent after inflation. The party says it will place priority on helping nurture such emerging sectors as renewable energy and medical and nursing care services.
The LDP, for its part, has attached high importance to reinvigorating the national economy and strengthening Japan's industrial competitiveness. Setting an inflation target of 2 percent, the party has committed itself to a bold monetary-easing policy, saying it will consider the advisability of revising the Bank of Japan Law to allow more collaboration between the government and the central bank.
Diplomatic skills vital
The issue of Japan's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade negotiations had earlier been expected to be a key campaign issue from the viewpoint of the nation's growth strategy. It is disappointing, however, that both the DPJ and the LDP refrained from going into specifics because both have a number of members who either oppose the free trade pact outright or are skeptical about it.
Meanwhile, parties remain sharply split regarding energy policy.
The DPJ has pledged to "reduce the number of operating nuclear power plants to zero by the end of the 2030s." Such parties as Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) and the Japanese Communist Party have taken the position of "doing away with nuclear power generation" within an even shorter time frame. The LDP, for that matter, has avoided producing a definite conclusion, saying the party will "determine the optimum makeup of power generation sources over a 10-year time frame."
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) has officially vowed to "break with" nuclear power, but its stance on the matter is incomprehensible because its leader, Shintaro Ishihara, has publicly denied the party made the antinuclear election pledge.
A party calling for terminating the nation's nuclear power generation should, as a matter of course, propose ways to cope with the adverse impacts of the "no-nuclear" option on the economy and employment, as well as measures to maintain Japan's nuclear energy-related technological levels. There have been no such proposals made in the lower house campaign and no in-depth debates on the matter.
On diplomacy and national security issues, many parties have called for deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance, each pledging to do its best to defend Japan's territorial integrity, including that over the Senkaku Islands.
The environment surrounding the nation's security has been increasingly severe as shown by the latest launch by North Korea of a long-range ballistic missile and China's military buildup and increasingly assertive maritime activities.
We urge voters to determine correctly which party has specific measures and ability to negotiate effectively to realize the nation's diplomatic goals.
Quality of politicians falling
The possibility is high that the divided state of the Diet will continue even after the general election.
Voters, in this connection, should also consider whether they should grant a single party a stable majority in the lower chamber.
A coalition government comprising a number of parties might find it easier to reflect diversified views in government policies. However, the process of ironing out conflicting views within the parties in power could be protracted, leading to a political impasse.
Many first-time candidates have been fielded in this general election, including those from the "third political force." If they win the election, they will have to immediately address a pile of policy tasks. Those in power, in particular, must fulfill the responsibility of appropriately using bureaucrats in steering affairs of state.
One major factor behind the stagnancy of politics in recent years is the deteriorating quality of politicians. Candidates' problem-solving capabilities and other personal qualities are therefore sure to be tested.
Voters should make correct choices in casting their ballots by scrutinizing the comparative merits and demerits of policies and assertions of parties and candidates.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2012)