The Yomiuri ShimbunThe start of official campaigning for the 48th House of Representatives election will be announced Tuesday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s announcement of his intention to dissolve the lower house has been followed by a sequence of unusual developments, including a sizeable realignment of the opposition parties. This is exactly why each political party’s policies and their abilities to act should be scrutinized, so a choice can be made to chart an unerring course for Japan.
The structure of the election campaign entails three forces: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito; the conservative-centrist opposition forces of Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and Nippon Ishin no Kai; and the leftist-leaning and liberal opposition forces of the Japanese Communist Party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party.
This represents a significant change in the election battle structure — a conventional ruling-opposition showdown — brought about by factors such as the launch of Kibo, the split of the Democratic Party, and the DP’s merger into Kibo.
The ruling and conservative-centrist opposition parties support and accept constitutional amendment and the security-related legislation, while the leftist-leaning and liberal forces oppose them. The ruling camp endorses a planned hike in the consumption tax rate in October 2019, and the opposition parties call for freezing or canceling the tax increase.
It is praiseworthy that differences in the political parties have been made clear as a result of the opposition camp’s realignment based on factors such as their political ideals and policies.
The greatest focus of the lower house election is the face-off between the LDP and Kibo.
To what extent will the prime minister be able to keep the LDP’s preelection strength in the lower chamber while also maintaining the foundation for a long-running and stable administration? How greatly will Kibo be able to expand its strength by using surprises — an influx of numerous DP members into Kibo and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike’s move to head the party — as a driving force for achieving its objectives at a time when there is no denying the party has remained insufficiently prepared for the election?
The pros and cons of raising the consumption tax rate were discussed as one of the important contentious issues at a debate sponsored by the Japan National Press Club, with the eight party leaders in attendance.
The prime minister reiterated his intention to raise the tax rate as initially planned, emphasizing his idea to reallocate the increased revenue to other purposes, such as free education. He put a question to Kibo, which advocates freezing the tax hike, regarding what kind of measure the party would adopt to secure an alternative source of revenue.
The current economic condition is “not accompanied by a solid sense of an economic boom,” Koike said, only stating that “We’re saying, ‘Let’s halt [the tax hike] for a while.’” She did not refer to specific issues, such as taxing the internal reserves held by major corporations — an item included in her party’s campaign pledge.
In elections, both the ruling and opposition parties tend to become reluctant about reforms that entail burdens on the public. To avoid a situation in which the need to raise financial resources for snowballing social security costs is easily passed onto the next generation, it is imperative for them to more responsibly argue over that issue.
Regarding the North Korean situation, the prime minister pointed out that pressure is essential for producing results through dialogue, citing as an example the pressure exerted by the United States and China on the North that led to six-nation talks in 2003.
Security policies key
Regarding security policy, it is praiseworthy that Koike has clarified that she approves of the security-related laws, saying, “Amid a very critical North Korea situation, we will promote real politics.”
The virtual No. 1 opposition party’s endorsement of the constitutionality of the security legislation will certainly render the debate over national security more constructive in the days ahead.
Even if there is a change of administration in the future, the current foreign and security policy lines will be carried on. Inheriting these policies would be expected to serve as a step toward building a stable political system.
Regarding constitutional amendment, Abe emphasized that “it is the Japanese people who are to make the decision in the end,” and expressed his idea of aiming to amend four items, including adding a stipulation of the Self-Defense Forces.
Citing the scandal over daily activity logs of Ground Self-Defense Force units, Koike said having a provision defining the legal grounds for the SDF added to the Constitution is questionable. On the other hand, she has indicated that she would actively support amendments intended to promote decentralization of power and the disclosure of information to the public.
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said public understanding about constitutional revision has not yet reached a stage of maturity, adding that his party would watch over the arguments within the LDP. Ichiro Matsui, leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, has emphasized the need to add a provision to the top law that renders education free.
The JCP, the CDPJ and the SDP have clarified their opposition to amending Article 9 of the Constitution.
Kibo is positive toward revision, meaning those in favor will surely continue to account for two-thirds of the lower house members.
When it comes to specific items to revise, however, these parties have not fallen in step with each other. Under what conditions will they be able to build a consensus on such matters as a provision stipulating the SDF? Parties should deepen their arguments on specifics during the campaign period.
Abe must explain
Abe spoke words of repentance in connection with the scandals involving the Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution: “As the saying, ‘Refrain from doing anything that may incur suspicion’ has it, it is natural for suspicion to fall. I myself should have been more careful.” Referring to remarks by people concerning a national strategic special zone, Abe once again denied his own involvement in the scandals.
The dissolution of the lower house, made without any substantial deliberations having been held during the extraordinary Diet session, has been dismissed by opposition parties as a means of “concealing suspicions tied to the Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.” Abe should be more active in disclosing relevant information and continue making scrupulous explanations.
Regarding Kibo having not clarified who it will support as a candidate for prime minister, Koike reiterated that she will think about it after seeing the election result.
Although Kibo plans to field more than 233 candidates — the number needed to secure a simple lower house majority — she may have concluded that it will be difficult for her party to come to power straight away.