Use stable foundation to resolve pending issues / Urgent to revive economy, enhance defense

The ballots cast in the House of Councillors election were counted while the shock from the fatal shooting of a former prime minister was still spreading. The upper house members who received a mandate from the voters must reflect on the importance of democracy and do their utmost to restore confidence in Japan.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito overwhelmingly won the 26th upper house election, securing a majority of the seats that were up for grabs. With the victory in the House of Representatives election last year, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has secured a stable power base for his administration.

Various crises in background

The novel coronavirus is causing havoc around the world, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken the international order. The shooting death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also a blow to society. These unprecedented circumstances may have caused voters to desire political stability.

The Kishida administration, which was inaugurated in October last year, has adopted a “new form of capitalism” as its signature policy, saying it will emphasize the distribution of wealth and work to correct disparities.

However, the administration can hardly be said to have achieved sufficient results so far. No paths for sustainable growth and wage increases have been presented. It is vital that serious efforts be made henceforth to resolve a variety of issues, including measures to deal with the high prices of goods and secure stable energy supplies.

The LDP has gained a stable foundation, but political struggles may intensify in the wake of Abe’s death, especially involving the Abe faction, which is the largest in the party. The prime minister must unite the party and be ready to strongly implement policies.

The LDP won a large number of seats in the 32 constituencies nationwide that each had one seat in contention, and smoothly increased its seats in constituencies where multiple seats were up for grabs and in the proportional representation segment. Komeito won in all the constituencies where it fielded candidates.

Regarding economic policy, which was the biggest issue in the election, Kishida has implemented measures to control gasoline prices in the fiscal 2022 supplementary budget. During the campaign period, he promised further measures to combat high prices. His efforts to alleviate public dissatisfaction are likely to have won him a certain level of support.

In foreign affairs, the government imposed strict sanctions against Russia. Kishida has actively engaged in diplomacy with world leaders.

“I want to move forward with my political duties, with a sense of responsibility,” Kishida said on an NHK program after the LDP win had become certain.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People fared poorly. In the 2016 and 2019 upper house elections, the parties formed a united front with other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, and made an arrangement to field a single candidate among opposition parties in all single-seat constituencies. However, in the latest upper house poll, this cooperation was limited to only 11 of the single-seat constituencies, leading to poor results.

Slump of former DPJ lawmakers

The opposition parties could have chosen to cooperate with each other in the upper house poll, which does not select the governing parties. But the CDPJ and DPFP failed to coordinate with each other, and the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), a support base, adopted the unusual step of only supporting individual candidates.

In its campaign pledges, the CDPJ promised to reduce the consumption tax rate. Since the party did not present an alternative financial source for funding social security, it may have appeared irresponsible to voters. It is also significant that CDPJ chief Kenta Izumi could not decide whether the party’s stance would be to criticize the administration or propose measures.

In contrast, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) secured gains, as it did in last year’s lower house election.

The slump of the CDPJ and DPFP — many of the people in both parties are former Democratic Party of Japan members — and the gains by Ishin no Kai indicate the collapse of the power structure in which conservatives and reformists have faced off against each other, which has prevailed under the so-called 1955 system. The realization of a “two-party system with the possibility of regime change” has become even more distant.

Another feature of the latest election was the dispersion of opposition forces, with several small and minor parties that used the internet to campaign. Which party will take the lead? A realignment of the opposition parties may accelerate in the future.

Voter turnout for the constituency races is expected to be around 52%. This will be higher than the figure for the previous upper house election, but the situation is serious, with nearly half of voters abstaining.

If the prime minister does not dissolve the lower house, there will be no major national elections for three years. It is important to tackle difficult policy matters such as fiscal reconstruction and social security reform.

Tackle difficult issues

The most urgent issue is to rebuild the economy. It is essential to promote measures to deal with high prices and at the same time to continue to push for higher wages.

The supply-demand balance for electric power continues to be precarious. Just calling on the public to take electricity-saving measures is not enough to fulfill political responsibility. Nuclear power reactors whose safety has been confirmed should be restarted.

The government plans to revise the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Program Guidelines at the end of the year. To enhance deterrence, the government needs to ready the ability to counterattack against armed attacks and secure the necessary equipment and the financial resources to do so.

Including the seats that were not contested in this election, more than two-thirds of the upper house — the number needed to initiate constitutional revision by the Diet — is held by members of the LDP and Komeito as well as Ishin no Kai and the DPFP, which are positive about revision of the top law. In light of the drastically changing international situation, it is important to deepen the debate on the Constitution in a fruitful manner.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 11, 2022)