Shiga election results highlight complacency in ruling parties
A government and a Liberal Democratic Party that had grown overconfident were apparently handed a rebuke when a former Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker defeated a candidate supported by the two ruling parties in Sunday’s Shiga gubernatorial election.
Taizo Mikazuki, an independent candidate and a former member of the House of Representatives with the DPJ, was elected to his first term in a poll contested by two other independents, including Takashi Koyari, who had the backing of the LDP and New Komeito.
Mikazuki’s victory owes much to his election tactic of positioning himself clearly as the successor to Gov. Yukiko Kada, who served two terms, and criticizing the political stances of the government and the LDP.
Mikazuki was also supported by a timely tailwind, especially after criticism mounted against Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara for his comments last month that “money will be what matters most after all” in negotiations between the central and local governments over selecting locations for the construction of temporary storage facilities for contaminated soil in Fukushima Prefecture.
Much criticism has also been directed toward LDP members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and the lower house Committee on Internal Affairs and Communications who made sexist jeers.
Voters apparently felt that these words and deeds, which lacked respect for women, and residents seriously affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, demonstrated the arrogance and complacency of the ruling parties.
The LDP is the sole powerful party in the Diet, occupying an overwhelming majority of seats, and the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe still enjoys a high approval rating. Nonetheless, the government and the LDP should be more humble and take every necessary step to carry out policies.
Taking national politics local
A gubernatorial election is generally expected to hinge on the capabilities of the candidates, and their stances on important issues facing the prefecture. LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said, “[The election] was influenced by some factors other than those directly connected to the candidates and prefectural administration.” It is regrettable that the race unfolded the way he described.
Mikazuki’s move to call for a phaseout of nuclear power, as Kada did, is questionable, because nuclear policies should be left to the government to decide from a broader perspective. Governors have no legal authority over decisions to resume operations at nuclear power plants.
There are no nuclear power plants currently operating in Japan, which has led to higher fuel costs for thermal power plants and higher electricity charges.
The government must expedite efforts to restart nuclear reactors by persuading relevant municipal governments to give their consent.
Koyari, a former official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, pledged to revitalize the Shiga prefectural economy, while stressing the achievements of the Abe administration’s economic policies, known collectively as Abenomics.
He failed to garner wide support, however, as the effects of Abenomics remain limited in communities away from the country’s major urban centers—a reminder of the government’s need to revitalize local communities in earnest.
The Shiga race came on the heels of the Cabinet’s approval of the government’s new constitutional interpretation allowing for limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense.
Given the recent deterioration in Japan’s security environment, strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and international cooperation by making it possible for the nation to exercise this right is a significant development.
The Mikazuki election camp criticized the new interpretation as part of its attacks on the Abe administration, dragging the campaign fight “outside the ring.”
The government and ruling parties should not dwell on the outcome of this election, but instead try to win wider acceptance among the public for the right of collective self-defense by sparing no efforts to explain why it is necessary to permit its exercise.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 14, 2014)