Leaders under scrutiny in lower house contest
The House of Representatives election will have a direct bearing on the selection of the prime minister, who is chosen from the bloc that secures a majority in the chamber.
As a result, voters bear a heavy responsibility as they will be choosing the person who will guide this country.
The nation's leader needs to present voters with a clear indication of what course and shape this country should take, and what must be done to achieve stated goals.
To realize the visions that will be presented during the campaign, the nation's leader must have the political skills necessary to keep a tight rein on his party, the ability to fully utilize bureaucrats and the capacity to offer voters convincing explanations on issues.
However, both Prime Minister Taro Aso and Democratic Party of Japan President Yukio Hatoyama fail to live up to such expectations of leadership.
Inconsistency fuels distrust
What is particularly worrying are the inconsistencies in both their words and actions.
Since taking office in September last year, Aso's inconsistencies and indecisiveness have been exposed at a number of crucial moments, such as his comments on what the flat-sum cash benefit program was meant for, the proposed division of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry into two new ministries, the reappointment of Japan Post Holdings Co. President Yoshifumi Nishikawa and disputes over the planned reshuffle of key posts in the Liberal Democratic Party, to name a few. In a sense, Aso has been digging his own grave with his words, which have pushed down his Cabinet's approval rating.
People's distrust in politics will be fueled further if the country's top leader goes back on something he has previously said. Aso therefore should not forget the old saying "An imperial mandate is like perspiration"--once released, it can never be taken back.
After dissolving the lower house, Aso called loudly for the realization of a society that feels safe to live in. But, given the current circumstances, voters will have doubts about this pledge and wonder whether it is possible to realize such a promise.
Aso's tenure as LDP leader will expire at the end of September, and the outcome of the lower house election will hold the key to his future as party head. Aso will be faced with the difficult decision of whether he should step down or stay on in the position.
Will Hatoyama stand firm?
Hatoyama, meanwhile, has long called for revision of the Constitution. Claiming that the incompatibility of Article 9 of the Constitution with modern political realities has undermined what he describes as a "healthy realism," Hatoyama has released his own proposal for constitutional amendment that approves the exercising of the nation's right of collective self-defense.
Yet since taking the helm of the DPJ for the second time in May, Hatoyama has kept a lid on his aspiration for constitutional amendment. This apparently is in consideration of former Japan Socialist Party members within his own party, as well as the Social Democratic Party, which is expected to be one of the DPJ's coalition partners.
Hatoyama recently referred to the possibility of taking a "realistic approach" to Japan's three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory, with a view to allowing nuclear-armed U.S. vessels to call at Japanese ports. He also indicated his intention to continue, for the time being, the Self-Defense Forces' refueling mission in the Indian Ocean.
Hatoyama is believed to have made such remarks to highlight the "healthy realism" that he talks about, but has drawn furious criticism from the SDP for doing so. Yet if Hatoyama gives ground in response to such criticism, he is unfit to be the next prime minister.
So, will it be Aso or Hatoyama that voters will entrust with the future of this country? The public is closely watching and carefully listening to what the two have to say and what they plan to do.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 23, 2009)