LDP must regain public's trust with achievements
Voters handed down a stern judgment on the Democratic Party of Japan-led government. They obviously opted for a stable administration from which realistic policies can be expected.
The Liberal Democratic Party and its likely coalition partner New Komeito together garnered more than 320 seats in the 46th House of Representatives election Sunday to secure a return to power. It was an overwhelming victory but was not met with an air of excitement.
The DPJ, on the other hand, suffered a historic, crushing setback after losing a huge number of seats. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Sunday night he would resign as party president.
LDP President Shinzo Abe, who is poised to assume the post of prime minister for the second time, said the election results "do not show the LDP fully regained the people's confidence." The party should not be complacent. It will be essential for it to resolve a host of challenges, including economic revitalization and reconstruction from last year's disaster, so it can regain public confidence.
Ishin no Kai secures foothold
One factor behind the LDP's victory may be that the voters wanted to punish the DPJ-led administration for its blunders.
The Hatoyama administration's haphazard handling of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture undermined the relationship of trust between the central and local governments and crippled the Japan-U.S. alliance.
The following Kan Cabinet took a winding course in coping with the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Public distrust in politics peaked as Prime Minister Naoto Kan clung to his post after announcing his intention to resign.
The Noda administration made some laudable achievements, including the enactment of the law on the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems, but he failed to achieve unity in his party, thereby causing it to split.
The gap between the people's expectations of the DPJ to effect real change in government three years ago and their subsequent disappointment was demonstrated by the huge loss of seats suffered in Sunday's election. The DPJ's humiliating setback was symbolized by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's decision not to run in the election and Kan's defeat in a single-seat constituency.
Some incumbent Cabinet ministers lost their Diet seats. Among them are Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Finance Minister Koriki Jojima, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Shinji Tarutoko, and Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Makiko Tanaka.
Many voters must have used their votes to express their stern criticism of the DPJ over its campaign platform for the 2009 general election, which incorporated such populist policies as a handout of child-rearing allowances and making expressway tolls free without securing definite sources of revenue.
The DPJ must rebuild itself based on the experience it gained as a ruling party.
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), which had aimed to become a so-called third political force, made a strong showing, securing enough seats to exert a certain amount of influence on the national political scene. Its two popular campaign faces--party leader Shintaro Ishihara and acting leader Toru Hashimoto--were able to successfully appeal to the voters. Your Party, which has a cooperative relationship with Ishin no Kai, also made gains.
Nippon Mirai no To (Tomorrow Party of Japan) suffered disappointing results. Ichiro Ozawa and other DPJ defectors tried to survive by joining the party headed by Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada and gathering political forces opposing tax increase and nuclear power generation. Their strategy came up short.
'Zero-nuclear policy' unsuccessful
The LDP's election partnership with Komeito in single-seat constituencies bore fruit. And the LDP gained in districts where "third political force" parties competed with another.
The LDP's advance may also partly be attributed to the fact that its policies appeared more convincing than those of other parties.
The LDP appealed to voters by pledging to carry out bold monetary-easing policies to end the nation's deflationary trend and implement comprehensive reform of the social security and tax system, centering on the hike in the consumption tax rate.
The party also emphasized its energy policy, under which nuclear power plants whose safety is confirmed will be put back online at least for the time being and the best combination of power generation sources will be decided over time. It did not advocate eliminating nuclear power generation.
The fact that the national security environment has become increasingly harsh may also have helped the LDP widen its appeal to voters as it stressed its pledge of rebuilding the nation's diplomatic policy.
The LDP is set to form a coalition government with Komeito. But the coalition cannot secure a majority in the House of Councillors even when the strength of two parties is combined.
It is highly likely the Diet will remain divided with no party holding a majority in the upper house, at least until the next upper house election scheduled for next summer.
Given this, it is essential for a ruling coalition to maintain cooperation among the three parties--the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito--which realized the comprehensive pension and tax reform, and make thorough efforts to form a consensus in policies.
As the LDP and Komeito, when combined, have garnered more than the two-thirds of the total seats in the lower house, bills can be passed into law by a second vote even if they are voted down in the upper chamber.
Yet precedent shows that if they run the administration high-handedly, they will cause a backlash of public sentiment in the next upper house election. The two parties should bear in mind the need to manage the administration with humility.
We were surprised at the wide-ranging swing in the number of seats won by parties, as was seen in the 2005 lower house election contested over the postal privatization issue, the 2009 election that brought a change of government with the DPJ coming into power, and the latest election.
Election reform an urgent task
It is characteristic of the single-seat constituency system that parties tend to win more seats than the percentage of all votes they receive would seem to warrant. We cannot help feeling that the current system needs to be corrected.
Should a large number of Diet members be replaced every time a national election is held, the nation's politics will become unstable as it becomes difficult for policies to be created at the initiative of politicians. Such a development would also weaken the nation's diplomatic power.
We should also keep in mind that the latest election was held with the electoral system in a "state of unconstitutionality" as the Supreme Court has pointed out.
The DPJ, the LDP and Komeito have agreed they would make a drastic review of the lower house election system and make the necessary legal arrangements to reduce the number of lower house seats during the ordinary Diet session next year.
It is necessary to shed light on the problems in the current system, which combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation, and dare to implement a drastic reform, including re-adopting a multiple-seat constituency system. This could be a faster route to rebuilding the nation's politics.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 17, 2012)