After Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo dissolved the Lower House more than a year before its term was to expire, the country goes to the polls on 22 October to elect new members. This sudden development has raised the critical issue of possible power shifts and the vision of the new government. These issues have engaged different political parties to place their priorities to policies before the people. Leading political parties such as the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Komieto, new party Kibo no To (Party of Hope) formed by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Democratic Party, Nippon Ishin no Kai and minor ones such as the JCP, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Kokoro are in the fray vying for voters’ heart with slogans.
The broad policy prescriptions and campaign slogans of these parties are: LDP for resolutely defending the county in the wake of impending threat from North Korea’s missile firings, besides reviewing Article 9 of the Constitution; Kibo for a reset for Japan, Komeito for reducing the burden for education, JCP for working together to open a new future for the country, Ishin for destroying the old politics and create a new one, Democratic Party for honest politics, SDP for bringing out the potentials of the Constitution, and Kokoro for a message for the next generation.
The LDP’s leader Abe known for his hawkish stance on the defence and security issues adopted the slogan “Resolutely defending this county” with resolve “to defend the lives, property and happy existence of the public”. What lies at the core of Abe’s stance is the crisis management ability of Japan amid the increasingly tense North Korean situation. Abe therefore justifies the need for political stability. The LDP’s junior coalition partner, Komeito, chose to focus on reducing the financial burden faced by parents. To meet its objectives, Komeito’s campaign pledge is to make preschool education free of charge and expanding grant-in-aid scholarships for university students.
Yuriko Koike’s Kibo no To used the catchphrase “A reset for Japan”, stressing that the country deserves a change of administration. Joining hands with Kibo, Nippon Ishin no Kai stresses the renewal of politics, choosing “Destroy old politics. Create new politics”. The newly launched Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan seeks honesty in politics and aims to corner Abe for his alleged involvement in scandals over Morimoto Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution. The SDP seeks protection of the country’s Constitution and is against Abe’s attempt to amend Article 9. As regards Kokoro, it is unclear what message it wants to send to the next generation.
What transpires from the above is that the opposition is in disarray and unlikely to pose any real challenge to LDP-Komeito combines. There is a new twist to the realignment of political forces when rumours surfaced that Koike’s Kibo might consider joining the LDP in forming a coalition after the results are out. It is also suspected that Koike could have been harbouring a scenario when once inside the government she can engineer to oust Abe from office and take political control of the government. It would be wrong to expect that Abe would not be aware of such intentions of Koike and offer a window to Kibo to join the government. Abe’s aim would be to secure a combined majority in the 465-seat House of Representatives, even with reduced numbers and is unlikely to enter into any understanding with Koike’s Kibo.
What are the major issues, besides the ones mentioned above, that the public would keep in mind while voting and may determine election outcome? Broadly, there are four major issues: restarting nuclear reactors, increasing consumption tax from the present 8 to 10 per cent from October 2019, addressing to the social security issue, revival of the sluggish economy and constitutional revision.
First, restarting the nuclear reactors following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011 that led to closing down all 54 reactors, nuclear as a source in Japan’s energy mix has remained a policy debate. The issue is whether to restart reactors No. 6 and No.7 at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc’s Kashiwazki-Kariwa nuclear power plant cleared the new safety standards by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. While Abe has set the target of drawing 20 to 22 per cent of total power generation from nuclear and therefore keen to reactivate reactors, Kibo wants “zero nuclear power” by 2030.
Second: Constitutional revision, especially Article 9, is one of Abe’s policy priorities. This is not easy as the process of amending an article is very complicated. What best Abe could do is to reinterpret the provision flexibly which could enable him to achieve his objective without actual amendment. He has already moved a step forward with his policy of collective self-defence. Koike’s Kibo questions Abe’s proposal to revise the Constitution to stipulate a rationale for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces in Article 9.
Third: While the LDP and Komeito want to raise the tax rate from 8 to 10 per cent in October 2019 as planned, other opposition political parties cross swords on this. LDP-Komeito combines plan to utilise the revenue resulting from the tax hike on social security system that would focus on all generations and not as the current system that puts emphasis on elderly people. Ishin, CDPJ, JCP and SDP are opposed on the ground that the hike in the tax burden could dampen personal consumption. Abe plans to use the tax money to help revive the country’s sluggish birth-rate and aging population. Japan faces a serious demographic challenge owing to declining fertility rate leading to population imbalance.
Fourth: The issues of “acceleration of Abenomics” and stress on “productivity revolution” are other priorities for Abe’s LDP, which plans to raise productivity dramatically with advanced technology. To counter Abenomics, Kibo announced its economic strategy called Yurinomics, which do not excessively rely on monetary easing and a fiscal-stimulus injection but focuses on eliciting vitality in the private sector. This is a new dimension introduced in the election battle.
Analysing all the above factors, it transpires that in view of the disunity in the opposition, Abe is likely to return to power without any hiccup.
*Dr. Panda is currently Indian Council for Cultural Relations India Chair Visiting Professor at Reitaku University, JAPAN. Disclaimer: The views expressed are author’s own and do not represent either of the ICCR or the Government of India. E-mail: [email protected]