Vote on policies, not change for change's sake
The House of Representatives was dissolved Tuesday. The government then formally decided the schedule of the 45th general election at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting, with campaigning officially commencing on Aug. 18 and voting set for Aug. 30.
The focal point of the lower house election is whether the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito coalition will remain in power or a new administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan will come into existence.
However, we must not simply gaze on and watch the scramble for political power unfold before our eyes.
Rather than mulling over the pros and cons of having a change of government, due consideration should be given to the key policies put forward by each party and their abilities to implement them.
During the 40 days from the dissolution to the vote, we hope voters will thoroughly evaluate each party's policies.
At this stage in the buildup to the lower house election, various opinion polls have indicated that the DPJ enjoys a lead over the LDP with the approval rating for the main opposition party surpassing the LDP's.
Ensuring stable politics
DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama has said the party's goal in the upcoming election is to become the biggest party in the lower house and thereby form a new government. The DPJ plans to form a coalition with the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party after the election because even if it wins the election and gains a majority in the lower house it will not by itself alone have a majority in the House of Councillors.
The question is whether this plan will indeed ensure a stable political environment.
The LDP and New Komeito managed to get through the divided Diet by holding a second vote on important bills using their two-thirds majority in the powerful lower house. But it appears impossible for the two parties to maintain their current number of seats in the upcoming election.
Whatever happens, the nation's political world is going to face the difficult task of finding a way to ensure smooth decision making in both chambers of the Diet.
At present, the public is struggling through a recession and is increasingly anxious about the declining birthrate and the graying population. In foreign relations, people are concerned about the deterioration in the national security situation as evidenced by China's growing military power and North Korea's accelerating efforts to develop nuclear arms.
Present clear vision
Each party needs to present its prescribed course of action for eliminating these concerns.
The parties' manifestos will again be the focus of attention in the upcoming election.
It is certainly desirable that parties establish a time frame for achieving their policies and set numerical targets in their manifestos. What is more important, however, is to chart a clear vision for the nation--a vision of the kind of country each party seeks to achieve.
During a general meeting of DPJ members from both houses Tuesday, Hatoyama stressed the importance of a shift from politics led by bureaucrats, which has been the case since the Meiji Restoration.
However, an attempt to achieve a political realm that is indeed led by politicians will only end up in disarray if those politicians do not have sufficient political clout to convince bureaucrats to do things they want them to.
The DPJ has said its manifesto will include policies introducing a monthly child care allowance, the abolishing of provisionally higher tax rates, such as that applying to the gasoline tax, and waiving expressway tolls.
However, it is extremely questionable whether such financial resources can be secured merely through eliminating wasteful government spending and some other means.
DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada has said no policy measure could be devised without thinking about how it can be funded. The DPJ should clearly state how it would come up with financial means for funding its policies and put together an election manifesto that the public will find convincing.
Political parties tend to formulate manifestos they hope will please voters. It should be noted, however, that policies devised in such a manner eventually force voters to pay for the inadequacies of such election pledges. The parties should know better than to compete in writing election manifestos merely designed to curry favor with voters.
Shift on security policies
The DPJ has maintained its opposition to some of this nation's international peace cooperation activities, including the Maritime Self-Defense Force refuelling operations in the Indian Ocean. However, the opposition party's stance in this respect seems to be changing somewhat, as indicated by Hatoyama's recent remark that the MSDF's mission should continue for the time being.
The DPJ has every reason to review and shift its key policies in a realistic manner. The party must take to heart the principle of consistency in Japan's diplomacy, as it stands a good chance of coming into power by replacing the current ruling coalition.
Hatoyama's apparent change of heart has antagonized SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima. An envisaged DPJ-led coalition government including the SDP would experience great difficulties in operating smoothly, given the fundamental policy differences between the DPJ and SDP.
Meanwhile, the LDP has been late in producing its manifesto for the upcoming general election. This can be attributed to the LDP's recent internal turmoil and the policy differences among its factions and groups. Some LDP members are still seeking to enter the lower house race under their own manifestos rather than the one to be drafted by the party's top cadre.
During a meeting of LDP lawmakers from both chambers of the Diet on Tuesday, Prime Minister Taro Aso said he was sorry for his slips of the tongue and his inconsistent remarks about policy issues. He also apologized for the LDP's defeats in recent local elections, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly race.
Apologize to people, not party
Aso's apology came too late. The prime minister should not forget that he owes an apology for his inconsistent policies to the public, not LDP legislators.
An essential task to be tackled by the LDP as a party in power is to devise and implement necessary policies. It is important for the ruling party to examine the results of the economic stimulus measures put in place by the government and the ruling parties amid the protracted global recession.
During a Cabinet meeting held to decide on the lower house dissolution Tuesday, the prime minister demonstrated his determination to transform this country into "an energetic society in which people can live without worries."
The LDP should come out with a clear plan to raise the consumption tax rate if it wants to be recognized as a party that can think and act responsibly. The dispute over a rise in the tax rate could emerge as an issue that decisively pits the LDP against the DPJ, which has said it would not increase the consumption tax rate for four years if it takes office.
With the lower house dissolved Tuesday, each political party is already fighting for seats in the lower house, even prior to the start of its official campaign. We hope all political parties will wage a battle of words on key issues, including social security programs and a new horizon on the Japan-U.S. relationship. Other essential issues include this country's policy on North Korea and other aspects of national security.
All this is certain to make it easy for voters to see which party is better suited to run the nation, the LDP or the DPJ.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 22, 2009)