Voters face choice between stability and change of govt / Parties must offer solutions to tough issues

Will the people put their trust in the newly formed administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, or turn to the opposition parties, which are building a stronger alliance? This is an opportunity for voters to make an important choice.

The House of Representatives has been dissolved. The official campaign period for the first lower house election in four years will start on Tuesday, and voting and ballot-counting will take place on Oct. 31.

Both the ruling and the opposition parties need to present a clear vision of Japan’s future and offer solutions to pressing issues.

In these four years, Japan has faced a series of new challenges, but it cannot be said that the political world has necessarily come up with effective measures.

Discuss economy, pandemic

The novel coronavirus pandemic dealt a serious blow to the economy and society. A strategic response will be necessary to resume economic activities while preventing a resurgence in infections.

Japan’s potential growth rate, a measure of the economy’s strength, is noticeably low compared to other countries. It is necessary to reduce economic inequality in society and at the same time raise the growth rate and improve incomes.

The security environment in East Asia is becoming increasingly severe. One question is how to curb the hegemonic actions of China, which is rising both militarily and economically, and maintain a free and open international order. Japan has a significant role to play.

What kind of government would be desirable to deal with these accumulating issues in a prompt and appropriate manner? The choice is the biggest point of contention.

“We will create a new capitalism where all citizens can enjoy the fruits of growth,” Kishida said at a press conference. He said victory would be defined as whether the ruling bloc can win a majority of at least 233 seats in the lower house.

Under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Liberal Democratic Party won six consecutive national elections and established a long-term government. However, Abe’s successor, former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, left office after just over a year. The question is whether Kishida will be able to build a stable government through the judgment of the people.

One of the LDP’s campaign pledges is to strengthen the government’s command and control functions in “contingencies related to infectious diseases,” addressing misgivings for the lack of hospital beds made available at the height of the outbreak. The LDP said it would promote the use of proof of vaccination and the spread of oral medications.

Komeito also advocates the development of a domestic vaccine and medicines for COVID-19.

Kishida said he would revise the neoliberal policies that have been in place since the structural reforms implemented by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, so as to realize a “new capitalism.” He may also look to change the negative aspects of the nearly nine-year-long LDP reign under Abe and Suga. Kishida is urged to discuss more specifically the path to achieving these objectives.

Clarify party differences

Regarding measures against the coronavirus, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan has said that it would drastically strengthen testing and border control measures “until the number of infected people drops sufficiently to a level where the number of infections does not rebound.”

While the ruling bloc emphasizes the importance of balancing pandemic measures with economic and social activities, the CDPJ appears to favor infection control being implemented more thoroughly.

With the aim of “reviving the 100 million, all-middle-class society,” the CDPJ has announced policies aimed at wealth redistribution, such as consumption tax and income tax cuts.

The policies of the LDP and the CDPJ have something in common, in that they both see increasing inequality as a problem and seek to stimulate consumption by strengthening wealth redistribution to the middle class.

But while Kishida has said, “Without growth, I don’t think redistribution is possible,” CDPJ leader Yukio Edano has emphasized a different stance, saying, “The starting point is proper redistribution.”

The LDP should convincingly explain how it will drive its growth strategy, which has so far been unsuccessful.

Since the CDPJ wants to be in power, it needs to show it can take responsibility for the government’s finances as well. During the administration of the former Democratic Party of Japan, a three-party agreement was reached in 2012 among the DPJ, LDP and Komeito on the difficult task of increasing the consumption tax rate. It is questionable to talk so easily about lowering the consumption tax, which is a stable source of revenue for social security.

The CDPJ, together with the Japanese Communist Party, Reiwa Shinsengumi, and the Social Democratic Party, have concluded a policy pact through a civic group on policies such as “abolishing unconstitutional parts of security-related legislation.”

The JCP withdrew its official candidates in 22 constituencies. There are believed to be more than 200 constituencies in which the four parties and the Democratic Party for the People have agreed to field a single candidate among them.

Cooperating with JCP

In the past, the opposition parties aimed to increase support from unaffiliated voters and the middle class, and to bring together “non-LDP and non-communist” forces. One focal point will be whether the CDPJ, the leading opposition party, will expand support by cooperating with the JCP in the election.

The DPP is not part of the opposition policy pact, but is calling for a shift to an aggressive fiscal policy. Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) plans to appeal to voters with its commitment to reforms.

How to deal with North Korea’s missile launches and China’s intrusion into territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands must also be discussed realistically.

The CDPJ has said that it sees the Japan-U.S. alliance as a cornerstone of foreign policy, but is there any contradiction in its cooperation with the JCP, which advocates the abolition of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty? A detailed explanation will be essential.