The Yomiuri ShimbunThe Cabinet led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, now in its fifth year since he returned to power, maintains an approval rating as high as around 60 percent. Under the current structure — whereby the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is the dominant force in political circles, and Abe dominates within the LDP — the foundation of his administration is stable.
Abe must utilize this precious political resource effectively to steadily move forward on such important challenges as rejuvenating the Japanese economy, putting its fiscal house in order and realizing a virtuous cycle of growth and distribution.
During a press conference held at the start of the new year, Abe said: “The economy will remain my top policy priority this year. To get the Japanese economy out of deflation, I’ll continue to shoot the three arrows of monetary policy, fiscal policy and growth strategies.”
Careful discussions vital
The ruling coalition of the LDP and Komeito occupies a stable majority in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. They also enjoy good relations with opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai. Nevertheless, it is important for the government and the ruling parties to commit to running the administration with care and modesty, without getting arrogant about their “force of numbers.”
The issue of abdication by the Emperor will be the biggest focus of discussions in the ordinary Diet session slated to convene on Jan. 20.
The government’s advisory panel of experts will announce late this month the points of discussion it will have compiled. With the belief that it would be difficult for future abdications to be institutionalized, the panel is expected to present a course of action for establishing a special law to allow abdication only by the currently reigning Emperor.
It is necessary to establish a related law this year to facilitate abdication in the 30th year of Heisei (2018), which the Emperor is said to have in mind. But any hasty moves must be avoided.
Discussions should be carefully advanced by also taking into account the opinions of some experts who have called for the use of a regent while showing concern that abdication would destabilize succession to the Imperial throne.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has compiled a proposal calling for revising the Imperial House Law to institutionalize abdication as a permanent system, saying there are doubts surrounding a special law allowing only the current Emperor to abdicate, which could violate the Constitution.
It is desirable to avoid as much as possible a situation in which the ruling and opposition parties confront each other over the establishment of a law concerning the status of the Emperor. They must undertake ever more level-headed discussions in the Diet.
At its party convention in March, the LDP is expected to make a formal decision on extending the maximum tenure of its party president from the current two consecutive terms, for a total of six years, to three consecutive terms, for a total of nine years. Abe’s current term as LDP president is set to expire in September 2018. An extension would enable him to remain in office until as late as September 2021.
DP-JCP handy union?
The extension of the tenure for the LDP president will have a major impact on the prime minister’s strategy to dissolve the lower house for a snap election.
The current term of lower house lawmakers will expire in December 2018. During the ordinary Diet session, a bill to revise the Public Offices Election Law — which would eliminate six single-seat constituencies under the “plus-zero, minus-six” format and redraw boundaries for about 100 electoral districts — is expected to be passed into law.
Dissolution of the lower house could conceivably happen any time from autumn this year. However, Abe will be carefully calculating when the best time for this will be.
The LDP-Komeito coalition swept to victory in the past four consecutive national elections. This is partly due to the deep-rooted distrust many people have of the largest opposition Democratic Party (previously called the Democratic Party of Japan), rather than their being enamored with Abe’s Abenomics economic policy package.
The Abe administration will need to produce tangible results in creating an economic recovery driven by domestic demand, promoting “work style reforms” and a “society that enables the dynamic engagement of all citizens.”
Just like it did for last year’s upper house election, the DP is poised to seek electoral cooperation with three other opposition parties — the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party.
DP leader Renho has reacted negatively to JCP calls to form “a plan for an alliance for a new administration,” but if the parties are to work together in the lower house election that will select the next administration, they will need to agree on basic policies. Leaving untouched their differing positions on issues including security-related legislation while strengthening their common front will leave them open to criticism of being a “union of convenience.”
In May, the Constitution will mark 70 years since it came into effect. During last autumn’s extraordinary Diet session, the lower house Commission on the Constitution just twice held open deliberations on amending the top law, while its upper house equivalent held talks once. Work on narrowing down the main items to be amended made little headway.
The DP is the major cause of this lack of progress. From start to finish, the DP criticized draft bills on constitutional amendments drawn up by the LDP and the enactment of security-related legislation, saying they violated constitutionalism. This approach deviates from the main purpose of these commissions — to improve the content of the nation’s supreme law.
This also is at odds with the DP’s platform in which it promised to “work with the people in envisioning a forward-looking constitution.” The party must engage in more constructive discussions.
Seek common ground
The LDP and Nippon Ishin no Kai, which both favor revising the Constitution, also have no concrete strategy for deciding which items to prioritize, and even how they will reach a consensus.
If this situation continues as it is, this year’s ordinary Diet session could end up with panel discussions that are all talk and no action, and a study group that rehashes previous discussions.
Points of contention for some issues worthy of discussion have already been raised, including establishing an “emergency clause” that would enable the government to respond more effectively to large-scale disasters, eliminating combined prefectural electoral districts in upper house elections, and adding provisions on new human rights.
All parties need to consolidate their opinions by first indicating which items they think should be given priority, and then holding intensive discussions on items that are common to them during this process.
The LDP should settle on a basic plan toward constitutional amendment by not only building trust with other parties, but also enabling exchanges of opinions between the party leadership and members of the constitutional commissions.