Deepen debate on issues to revitalize political system
Can Japan restore its national strength? We have come to a critical time, when we have an opportunity to make a choice with the future course of this country at stake. Voters must listen seriously to what political parties and candidates advocate, to get the measure of their policies and competence.
Official campaigning for the 23rd election of the House of Councillors began Thursday.
Japan is now confronted with many grave, difficult-to-solve problems:
How does it break away from decades of a deflation-plagued economy to make compatible its two goals of economic growth and rebuilding its deficit-ridden government? What steps must be taken to create a solidly sustainable social welfare system in the face of the rapidly aging society with a low birthrate? What should this country do to reconstruct its diplomacy amid the increasingly volatile global and Asian situations to ensure Japan’s national interest?
None of these tasks can be accomplished easily.
End sense of stagnation
Furthermore, an abnormal state of affairs has continued in which the prime minister changed every year since 2006.
Because the prime minister and cabinet members changed so frequently up until the House of Representatives election last year, the central govenment’s bureaucratic machinery tended to go on the defensive, leaving the nation unable to build relationships of trust with foreign leaders and conduct full-fledged diplomatic activities.
Because of the divided Diet, in which the opposition controls the upper house, bills of key importance have frequently failed to pass the legislature. As stagnant politics has become commonplace, the public has been enveloped in a sense of stagnation as well.
Whether it is possible to end this situation is the biggest focus of attention in the upper house election.
In his first campaign speech for the upper house contest Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared, “We keenly hope to eliminate the divided Diet, and we ask you, the electorate, to throw your strong support behind us,” stressing his goal of garnering a majority in the upper chamber through the combined strength of the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito.
To be sure, his government will find it difficult to fully address big policy tasks without stabilizing its power base.
Banri Kaieda, leader of the No. 1 opposition Democratic Party of Japan, emphasized the same day, “We must confront the administration of Prime Minister Abe, which is going to disrupt the livelihood of the people.”
The opposition camp is determined to stop the ruling coaliton from gaining a majority in the upper house, arguing the importance of the opposition’s role of holding the ruling coalition in check to prevent it from going astray.
Rating the Abe Cabinet
While a House of Representatives election is a contest in which voters decide which party or parties should take power, an upper house election is an interim evaluation of the ruling parties by voters.
In the upper house races in 2007 and 2010, the electorate handed down harsh verdicts against the government in what seemed like a backlash in reaction to the ruling coalition’s unexpectedly hefty victories in the previous lower house elections. This created the divided Diet.
If the Abe administration can reverse these precedents and put an end to the divided Diet, the administration will be able to establish a decision-making framework to decide on key policy matters swiftly and boldly by the next Diet election. It is likely this will lead to the revitalization of the nation’s political system.
What voters should bear in mind in making their choice is how to evaluate the achievements of the Abe administration and weigh them against the policies being touted by each political party and candidate in the upper house race.
Concerning the current administration’s Abenomics economic policies, the LDP has included in its campaign platform an economic growth target of about 3 percent in nominal terms and a policy of tax incentives for investment and drastic corporation tax cuts.
It is laudable that the Abe government has brought about such results as the correction of the yen’s strength and higher stock prices, and achieved Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
On the other hand, some have said the benefits of Abenomics have only been enjoyed by some of the public.
Criticizing Abenomics as having caused such side effects as price hikes and radical fluctuations in interest rates, the DPJ asserts that it will seek to expand the income of ordinary citizens and middle-class people.
However, the party’s growth strategy lacks concrete measures. It leaves something to be desired for a party that has been teetering on the brink after its crushing setback in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election.
Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) calls for bolstering competitiveness and cuts in income and corporation taxes. Your Party aims to attain a nominal growth rate of 4 percent or more by pushing drastic regulatory reforms.
No matter how attractive policies are, they will have no persuasive power unless accompanied by fiscal resources and a roadmap for their achievement. We ask the parties to deepen their debate on economic policies.
In regard to nuclear policy, the LDP takes a positive view of restarting nuclear reactors after they are judged safe and promoting exports of nuclear power plants. This is consistent with the party’s emphasis on economic growth.
The opposition parties are all in favor of immediately or eventually eliminating all nuclear reactors, including the DPJ’s call for “ending nuclear power generation in the 2030s.” But their stances are vague concerning measures to secure substitute energy sources and in harmonizing their antinuclear positions with measures for economic growth.
Probably because of the DPJ’s failure to carry out the policies it presented in its unrealistic campaign platform for the 2009 lower house election, all the parties’ campaign pledges are more like slogans and their abstractness is obvious. They must discuss more concrete measures regarding social security reform and diplomatic and security issues.
Constitution at issue
The Constitution is also an important bone of contention.
The LDP, Ishin no Kai and Your Party call for easing the Diet requirements stipulated in Article 96 of the national charter for initiating constitutional revisions. New Komeito asserts it will discuss the requirement issue along with specific revisions, while the DPJ opposes revising the article ahead of other articles. But their positions leave room to approve easing the requirements.
Whether constitutional revision will become realistic depends on the results of the upper house poll.
The parties and their candidates are urged to hold an active debate on how to define the Self-Defense Forces in the Constitution, as well as on such issues as the bicameral system and decentralization of power to find a new desirable governance system for the nation.
Elections, which are the bedrock of democracy, are a joint endeavor by parties, their candidates and voters. It is voters’ vital responsibility to closely examine the assertions of parties and their candidates before casting their valuable votes, without being affected by the mood of the moment.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 5, 2013)