Times of political difficulty call for fortitude and finesse / Stable footing no excuse for complacency


There are a mountain of issues that need to be addressed, such as a declining population and soaring prices. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida must regain public trust by steadily implementing policies.

“I’ll squarely and honestly tackle issues that cannot be postponed and produce tangible results one by one,” Kishida said at his New Year’s press conference.

Last year, there were a spate of scandals involving members of the Kishida Cabinet. The prime minister was forced to replace four key Cabinet members. The public has taken a harsh view of the prime minister.

Critical decisions noteworthy

Unified local elections will be held this spring. No major national elections are scheduled, but Kishida has mentioned the possibility of dissolving the House of Representatives before implementing a tax hike to strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities.

For that to happen, what the prime minister should do first is to bring the political chaos under control and restore public support for his Cabinet.

It is noteworthy that the Kishida Cabinet made critical decisions last year that serve the national interest.

Given the deteriorating security environment surrounding Japan, it is significant for the Self-Defense Forces to possess counterattack capabilities. It is also important that the government has decided to drastically increase its defense spending by reviewing its conventional rigid budget allocations.

With regard to the challenges of energy supply insecurity and decarbonization, the government’s plan to build replacements for existing nuclear reactors and extend their operating periods is reasonable.

These policies have not been fully appreciated, probably because of problems with how the administration has been handled in general.

In December, Kishida expressed his intention to increase taxes to secure defense spending. There was backlash from some lawmakers within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who called the plan “too abrupt,” and no decision was made even on the timing of the tax hike.

There was also a noticeable lack of coordination between the Prime Minister’s Office and the ruling parties during the extraordinary Diet session last autumn.

The LDP and its coalition partner Komeito have stable majorities in both houses of the Diet. The decision-making process led by the Prime Minister’s Office has also been strengthened.

Nevertheless, if the Prime Minister’s Office makes light of coordination with the Diet and the ruling parties, politics will not move forward. It is necessary to avoid arrogance and try to manage the administration with humility.

Lower birth rate than expected

It goes without saying that the low birth rate and the economic slump are at the core of a sense of stagnation engulfing the nation.

It makes sense that at the press conference Kishida cited “extraordinary measures to counter the low birth rate,” as well as the realization of a virtuous economic cycle, as challenges to be tackled this year.

For 2022, the number of births is expected to fall below 800,000 for the first time. The birth rate has been falling at a faster pace than expected.

If this trend is not halted, society will lose its vitality. The sustainability of the social security system, including medical and nursing care and pensions, will be endangered.

It is vital to take unprecedented and drastic measures to address the low birth rate. The government must accelerate discussions to secure adequate financial resources for that purpose.

The entire picture of Kishida’s “new form of capitalism” remains unclear. If his vision places importance on investment in people, it is important to present a roadmap toward raising wages in an easy-to-understand manner.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has entered its fourth year, the government’s response is still not encouraging.

When it comes to the handling of outpatients who have a fever, in principle, the government gives priority to the elderly and patients with underlying health conditions, with everyone else recuperating at home. There is an urgent need to establish a system in which all patients can receive treatment without any worries.

This year, Japan’s diplomatic prowess will be put to the test.

In May, a summit of the Group of Seven advanced nations will be held in Hiroshima City. As chair, Japan is responsible for coordinating with the other countries to reach an agreement on how to deal with the Ukraine crisis and food issues.

At the United Nations, Japan will serve as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for two years, starting this month. It is hoped that Japan will lead the assertive use of General Assembly meetings and discussions on Security Council reform.

During the extraordinary Diet session last autumn, there was momentum for cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties. It is crucial to take advantage of this opportunity and advance debate on electoral system reform in both chambers of the Diet.

In recent years, both chambers have worked to correct the disparity in vote values at the request of the judiciary.

Expedite electoral system debates

Last year, in the redistribution of seats for the lower house in single-seat constituencies, 10 seats were taken from 10 prefectures. These 10 seats were redistributed to five other prefectures. Under the current system, if the population of rural areas shrinks further, the number of seats in urban areas will be increased further, while the number in rural areas will be decreased.

In the Tottori-Shimane constituency and the Tokushima-Kochi constituency — which are integrated constituencies combining two neighboring prefectures intended to correct vote value disparities in the House of Councillors elections — voter turnout has been noticeably sluggish. The merging of prefecture-based constituencies may discourage voters from casting ballots.

It is not acceptable to leave unaddressed the various distortions that have resulted from giving too much priority to rectifying the disparity in vote values.

The lower house special committee that debated the 10-seat increase and 10-seat decrease proposal has adopted a resolution to establish a forum to discuss an ideal election system. The upper house has already started studying the issue.

It is hoped that in addition to electoral system reform debates, the two chambers will work together to take a step forward to discuss the roles of both houses.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 5, 2023)