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In upper house poll, present path to overcome challenges

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe performance of the long-running administration will be put to the test in the upcoming House of Councillors election. It is hoped that this will be a good opportunity to consider Japan’s future path toward overcoming the challenges facing the nation.

The ordinary Diet session has ended. The government and ruling parties narrowed down the number of bills and devoted their entire attention to cautious management of the Diet. Taking the upper house election into account, opposition parties intensified their confrontation with the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, focusing on the careless handling of statistics and gaffes by Cabinet members among others.

It would be difficult to say that constructive debates were conducted to tackle the challenges facing Japan, including how to deal with the falling birthrate and aging population, and trade friction. Both ruling and opposition parties must seriously reflect on their actions during the Diet session.

Dubious alliance

The government has decided that the official campaigning period for the upper house election will kick off on July 4 and the voting and vote counting will take place on July 21.

At a press conference, Abe said: “At stake in the upper house election is whether reforms can be promoted under stable politics, or whether the country will return to an age of confusion.”

The prime minister has set a goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito securing a majority of seats in the upcoming upper house election.

Since coming back to power at the end of 2012, the prime minister has tackled domestic and international policy issues and his Cabinet has maintained high approval ratings. In November, Abe’s total number of days in office as prime minister would exceed that of Prime Minister Taro Katsura, the nation’s longest-serving leader.

The arrogance and complacency of the long-running administration have been pointed out. Attention is being focused on whether Abe will be able to gain some degree of support in the upper house election and maintain momentum for the operation of his administration.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties are fielding joint candidates in all of the 32 constituencies with one seat up for grabs.

There has been criticism of the relationship of convenience that has brought together the CDPJ and the Democratic Party for the People, as well as the Japanese Communist Party, whose security and other policies are widely apart from those of the CDPJ and the DPP. To what extent can election strategies of the opposition parties challenging the giant ruling parties be understood by voters?

The orientation of the CDPJ and the DPP could influence other opposition parties to reorganize. Can Nippon Ishin no Kai, whose stance toward the administration is adopted on an issue-by-issue basis, expand its support not only in the Kansai region — its electoral base — but also in other regions across the country?

Prepare for tax hike

Economic policy is the first question that must be addressed in the upper house election.

The government and ruling parties are sticking to a policy of raising in October the consumption tax rate — a stable financial resource to cover snowballing social security costs. It is necessary to coordinate the economic environment in order to carry out the tax hike smoothly.

Are the government’s initiatives, such as a reduced rate on some items and a reward points system, going to be enough to cushion the higher consumption tax rate? The specifics of these issues must be discussed.

The CDPJ and other parties have called for freezing the planned consumption tax rate hike. If this step were taken, how would these parties cover the resulting shortfall of financial resources? These parties must present realistic alternative proposals.

Corporate performance and employment indicators have improved, but the economy has not completely dragged itself out of the clutches of deflation. How will economic growth be realized through improved productivity and higher pay levels? Ruling and opposition parties must show their course for achieving this goal.

A Financial Services Agency panel report that stated an average married couple would need ¥20 million in savings in addition to the national pension benefits to support themselves after retirement prompted criticism from opposition parties. Details in the report that seemed to indicate this figure would apply to every household must be described as reckless.

Even so, doubts linger over the opposition bloc’s assertions that the pension system is teetering on the brink of collapse. Both sides should calmly discuss how to ensure people can live with peace of mind in their golden years.

Setting up social structures that enable elderly people keen to work to be able to continue doing so also is a pressing need.

Reform of the entire social security system has been put off until after the upper house election. Reviews and discussions on the level of benefits paid and burdens to be shouldered cannot be avoided. The nation’s baby-boomer generation will reach 75 or older in 2025. It is vital to discuss head-on a review of pension benefits and secure financial resources for them in preparation for the years after that.

Diplomatic and national security policies also will be an important issue in the upcoming election. A slip-up in steering these policies could stall the economy.

In its election promises, the LDP pledged to lead efforts to write rules and build unity in the international community. How will the party persuade U.S. President Donald Trump, who has championed his “America First” policy and unilaterally demanded trade deficits be cut, and achieve greater international cooperation?

Intl cooperation vital

China is expanding and bolstering its military and attempting to change the status quo by force. The threat presented by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles has not declined. The international situation and how Japan handles it should be discussed while taking the larger picture into account.

The current situation in which the upper and lower houses’ commissions on the Constitution are hardly functioning cannot be glibly waved away. Constantly examining how the nation’s supreme law should be is a duty of the government’s legislative branch.

The approach of opposition parties that reject even discussing the Constitution should be harshly challenged.

A special quota aimed at helping certain lawmakers get elected will be introduced in the proportional representation segment of the upper house election. This revision spearheaded by the LDP aims to come to the rescue of incumbent lawmakers who cannot run as candidates in merged constituencies. This is nothing more than a stopgap policy and falls far short of fundamental reform of the electoral system.

More thought must be given to how the upper house fits into the electoral system, based on the division of functions between the upper and lower Diet chambers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 27, 2019)Speech



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