Ruling, opposition parties must constructively debate key issues

How will Japan deal with the prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic and growing international tensions? The ruling and opposition parties should hold constructive discussions to resolve various issues.

The fiscal 2022 budget plan has passed the House of Representatives, guaranteeing that final approval will come within fiscal 2021. The total amount of the budget plan, including coronavirus control measures, is a record high of more than ¥107 trillion. This is the second-fastest passage of an initial budget plan by the lower house under Japan’s current Constitution.

Regarding the strain on medical care services caused by the sixth wave of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said at a lower house Budget Committee meeting, “I apologize for the inadequate response [regarding medical services] and will continue to make efforts for the safety and security of the people.”

Kishida was initially cautious about setting numerical targets for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine. However, the number of shots that have been administered has been slow to increase, prompting the prime minister to announce this month the goal of achieving 1 million vaccinations per day. Kishida must display stronger leadership.

In addition to the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, the opposition Democratic Party for the People voted in favor of the budget plan. It is quite unusual for a major opposition party to approve an initial budget plan.

In a meeting with Kishida after the vote, DPFP leader Yuichiro Tamaki said, “We voted for the budget plan with resolve.”

As a reason for supporting the budget plan, Tamaki referred to the fact that Kishida clearly stated he would consider lifting the freeze on a trigger clause to temporarily cut gasoline taxes. This was one of the DPFP’s pledges for battling rising gasoline prices during last year’s lower house election.

The DPFP apparently wants to not just criticize the government, but to also show the public that the party intends to propose concrete policies and get them realized. This is believed to be aimed at asserting the party’s presence ahead of the House of Councillors election this summer.

Tamaki reportedly told the president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), which supports his party, and others ahead of time that the DPFP would vote for the budget plan.

The DPFP seeks realistic security policies and has shown a positive attitude toward amending the Constitution. To what extent will the DPFP compromise with the government and ruling parties? The political situation has begun to show signs of fluidity in terms of policy responses.

Kenta Izumi, leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, criticized the DPFP’s response, saying that it was “unbelievable.” In last year’s lower house election, the CDPJ and other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, promoted a united front to counter the ruling coalition. However, votes critical of the administration went to Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) and other parties, resulting in the CDPJ’s crushing defeat.

Rengo expressed displeasure at the cooperation between the CDPJ and the JCP and did not specify which party it would support in its basic policy for the upper house election. Some labor unions are seeking cooperation with the LDP.

Budget deliberations will move to the upper house. How will each party deal with the relevant issues? With the next upper house election this summer, it will be even more important for them to make this clear to voters.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 23, 2022.