Coalition must not be arrogant but should firmly pursue policy goals
The ruling coalition parties have scored a resounding electoral victory following their landslide in the December 2012 House of Representatives election.
In Sunday’s House of Councillors election, the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, garnered a majority in the 242-seat upper chamber, including seats that were uncontested this time.
It is of great significance that the divided Diet, in which the upper house was controlled by opposition parties, has been brought to an end.
There is no national election scheduled for up to three years.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has now acquired an environment that will allow it to buckle down to various policy tasks. Among them are making the nation’s economic recovery compatible with fiscal reconstruction, strengthening the country’s security arrangements and considering the wisdom of revising the Constitution.
However, neither the LDP nor Komeito should be complacent or arrogant about their newly won political power but instead should engage in managing the Diet considerately and respectfully.
Voters favor stability
The divided state of the legislature developed six years ago as a result of the first Abe Cabinet’s suffering a crushing defeat in the 2007 upper house contest. Abe’s triumph this time has avenged that defeat.
When the outcome of the latest upper house race began emerging late Sunday night, Abe said on a TV program his administration was given a “great voice of encouragement from the public, which wants a political process capable of making decisions, achieving a stable government and moving ahead with our economic policies.”
The stagnation and political turmoil caused by the divided Diet were major factors behind the anomaly of a new prime minister every year. Many voters this time favored political stability as pointed out by the prime minister.
The prime minister’s package of economic policies, dubbed Abenomics, was the focus of contention in the upper house election and can be said to have won the public’s confidence, at least for now.
However, Abenomics has not yet produced any conspicuous improvements in the income of ordinary citizens or employment. It remains unclear whether the national economy can really break away from deflation.
To meet the public’s expectations for economic revival, the prime minister must do his utmost to produce tangible results by mobilizing all available resources of the government and the ruling coalition parties.
The resounding win of the LDP, the only party in the latest upper house election that did not call for “reducing nuclear power generation to zero,” can be considered proof that voters favorably evaluated the party’s down-to-earth approach to energy problems.
Moves for realignment
The LDP was strong enough in the upper house race to score 29 wins versus two losses in single-seat prefectural constituencies, while also garnering seats in all multiple-seat constituencies. Komeito also performed well in securing upper house seats.
The LDP’s victory in prefectural constituency contests owed partly to the poor performance of opposition parties, just as in last year’s lower house election, and to the circumstances under which they found themselves scrambling among themselves for upper house seats.
Voter turnout, meanwhile, fell well below the level in the previous upper house election. It seems some voters averse to the LDP might have chosen to abstain from voting.
The DPJ suffered a crushing defeat, the worst since its inauguration, in the upper house election. In many cases, the party was defeated by other opposition parties even in multiple-seat prefectural electoral districts.
There can be no denying that the desire to “punish” the DPJ for a pile of policy blunders while in power remains deeply ingrained among the public.
The election result shows the DPJ, as in the past, lacked solidarity as a party. One such example is that former Prime Minister Naoto Kan openly backed a candidate in the Tokyo constituency who had to run as an independent after the party dropped her from its ticket.
Taking into consideration the DPJ’s dogmatic “out-and-out opposition” in the Diet and its ambiguous stance on such key issues as the Constitution, the DPJ failed to attract the votes of those critical of the Abe administration.
DPJ leader Banri Kaieda expressed his intention to stay on as head of the party. The party leadership has no option but to clarify responsibility and start afresh after reflecting on its crushing defeat in the latest election. If it fails to do so, it may cease to be one of the two major parties in the next lower house election.
Those who bolted from the DPJ also failed miserably in the latest election. People’s Life Party failed to win a seat even in the Iwate constituency, the home base of its leader, Ichiro Ozawa, symbolizing his declining political clout. Green Wind lost its seat in the upper house.
While Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and Your Party saw gains in their upper house seats, the parties cannot be considered to have solidified their foothold as the “third major force” in the upper house.
During the election campaign, Ishin no Kai coleader Toru Hashimoto criticized the DPJ for being supported by labor unions of public servants and asserted the need of forming a “new opposition party” that has no affiliation with business organizations and “can rival the LDP.”
The opposition camp is certain to reorganize in a bid to explore a way to create a force that can fight the ruling coalition.
The JCP, which advocated “confrontation with the LDP,” made major gains in the election, as it did in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. The low voter turnout must have served as a spur to the highly organized party.
Focus on growth strategy
For the time being, the Abe administration will deal with the tasks of implementing its growth strategy plans, deciding whether to raise the consumption tax rate as planned and reviewing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution with regard to the right to collective self-defense. It also intends to proceed with the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the establishment of the Japanese version of the U.S. National Security Council.
All of these are important issues that affect the nation’s future.
We hope the administration will realize them by strategically setting priorities.
Abe said, “Now that the divided Diet has come to an end, we can no longer lay the onus on the opposition parties” if the ruling camp fails to handle these tasks adequately. How well the government and the ruling parties can deal with these issues will be tested in the days ahead.
Another focus will be on Komeito’s future actions. During the campaign, the party said it would act as a brake on some of the LDP’s policies.
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has even said the party would “adamantly oppose” a review of the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, as Abe advocates.
Abe needs to consult with Yamaguchi afresh over the tasks facing the ruling coalition. It is vital for both to cooperate by communicating with each other well so they can properly manage the powerful ruling parties.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 22, 2013)