2017 Lower House Election / Politics adrift / Koike’s theatrics blur policy debate

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, on Saturday.

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the second and final installment of a series on the upcoming House of Representatives election.

“After being ousted as the governing party, the Liberal Democratic Party honestly and steadily provided voters with our policies. What’s going on now is totally different from what we did.”

In a speech on Saturday evening in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is also president of the LDP, talked ironically about the ongoing movement of the Democratic Party to join forces with Kibo no To (Party of Hope).

Thursday’s lower house dissolution was meant to be a surprise attack launched by Abe after choosing “the timing for ruling parties to be able to win the election.” He said the reason for the dissolution was to question the public about the pros and cons of using the increased tax revenue from a consumption tax rate hike to provide free education and other services, thereby changing the initially designated purpose for the additional tax revenue.

But the moves to realign the opposition parties have wiped away optimism within the ruling parties. After winning four consecutive national elections, Abe is facing his first critical point since the lower house election in 2012 that returned the LDP to power.

In the election campaign that effectively started after the dissolution, Kibo no To leader Yuriko Koike, who is also the governor of Tokyo, is strengthening her criticism against the administration with such simple expressions as “Resetting Japan” and “Reform that prioritizes close friends is not [true] reform.”

Koike is trying to simplify the points of contention in the election by focusing on the pros and cons of the Abe administration, rather than individual policies.

The LDP is actively trying to involve opposition parties in a policy debate.

In a meeting of secretaries general of LDP prefectural chapters nationwide that was held at the party headquarters in Tokyo on Saturday morning, LDP Vice President Masahiko Komura said, “This is an election to choose either a responsible party that develops and implements its philosophy and policies, or one that abandons its philosophy and policies to join forces with each other only for votes.”

At an LDP Election Strategy Headquarters meeting held immediately after the dissolution of the lower house, the prime minister issued instructions regarding countermeasures against Koike, saying: “We will not make personal attacks. We will instead confidently explain the party’s achievements to voters.”

Abe issued such instructions because if criticism against each other intensifies, “the election campaign would end up falling into the hands of Koike, who is good at staging a campaign to her advantage and sending her message to voters,” according to a source close to the prime minister.

During his speech, Abe avoided naming or criticizing Koike. He spent most of his time explaining measures against North Korea and the Abenomics economic policy package.

A senior LDP official said that if the ruling parties can involve her party in a policy debate, the prime minister would be able to bring Koike’s empty policies into focus.

Nevertheless, the members of the LDP are nervous about the power of a “Koike whirlwind.”

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election in July brought a crushing defeat for the LDP, which was called a “resistance force” by Koike.

A recently incumbent LDP lower house lawmaker, who was elected from Tokyo, expressed mixed feelings, saying, “We won’t fight Kibo no To. We’ll fight an illusion of Koike.”

In the upcoming lower house election, the direction of Japan, which faces various domestic and foreign issues, including a declining birthrate and aging population and North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, will be questioned.

In the “theatrical politics” staged by Koike, the points of contention, which should normally be debated, are fading.Speech

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