EDITORIAL: 'Strategic voting' is a must for pivotal Upper House election
（社説）参院選 きょう公示 戦略的投票でこたえよう
Campaigning for the July 10 Upper House election kicked off on June 22.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making the economy the main issue. But there is no question that constitutional amendment will also be at stake, even though Abe says it is not necessary for it to become an election issue. His reasoning is that the Diet needs to debate this subject further.
Abe is more than eager to revise the Constitution. But with the prime minister giving no indication whatsoever of which parts of the Constitution he intends to rewrite and how, voters have no way of forming a judgment.
Abe is conducting politics the "wrong side up" or "back to front." Do we voters allow such an approach to escalate, or do we put the brakes on it? This Upper House election definitely carries far more weight than a mere "midterm evaluation" of the Abe administration.
NOT REFLECTING POPULAR WILL
This will be the second Upper House election since Abe began his second stint as prime minister in December 2012. In retrospect, Abe became the "sole winner" by bringing both chambers of the Diet under the control of the ruling coalition with the previous Upper House election in 2013, which was seven months after the change in government from the then Democratic Party of Japan.
Voters who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, now called Komeito, in that election were apparently disgusted by the inefficacy of the DPJ administration, and wanted the LDP-New Komeito coalition to stabilize politics and focus on improving the Japanese economy.
After that Upper House election three years ago, we wrote in our editorial that the government should not be "divorced from popular will."
We wondered if the wages would go up for small and midsize company workers and those working outside the big cities. We wondered if the Abe administration would be able to secure revenues needed to stabilize the health-care and social security systems. And the thrust of our argument was that should Abe ignore these concerns and proceed instead with his policy of "departure from the postwar regime," he would be betraying the wishes of the people.
We believe we have been proven right, given the continuing surge of popular protest against the Abe administration since the enactment of national security legislation last year.
In the upcoming election, Abe says the focal point is to seek the public's approval of his "new decision" of postponing the consumption tax hike. By stressing economic statistics such as increased tax revenues and employment, he is telling voters to decide whether they want "Abenomics" to advance or regress.
The proper thing for Abe is to take responsibility for reneging on his promise to raise the consumption tax rate “for certain." But in not doing so, he appears to be taking advantage of the honest feelings of many people who are reluctant to "swallow the bitter medicine" of paying a higher consumption tax.
Abe has said that the victory depends on "the ruling coalition winning a majority of contested seats." Setting the goal may demonstrate his resolve, but whether he will step down if he fails to achieve that goal is anyone's guess.
LOW VOTER TURNOUT CONTINUES
The ruling coalition of Abe's LDP and Komeito has won three national elections in a row since 2012. And one common factor among the three polls was low voter turnout.
The rates were at the 59 percent level for the 2012 Lower House election and at the 52 percent level for both the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Lower House election. Voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest in the postwar history of Lower House elections.
The difference is substantial from the nearly 70 percent voter turnout in the 2009 Lower House election that resulted in the historic change in government. In terms of the number of voters, 72.02 million people voted in the 2009 election, whereas only 54.74 million people did so in the 2014 election. To put this simply, about 17 million voters stopped going to the polls in the 2014 election.
Between 2009 and 2014, the LDP experienced both its fall from power and return to power, but there actually was no significant difference in the number of votes the party won. In the proportional representation portion, the LDP won less than one out of five votes in each election, when abstentions are taken into account.
In other words, the LDP under Abe has not really gained supporters. Under the current election system, which is prone to create wasted votes, the simple fact is that the drastic decrease in the number of DPJ supporters and the increased number of abstentions have given the LDP more seats than those in proportion to the votes it has actually won.
The Abe administration arbitrarily "reinterpreted" the Constitution to allow the nation to exercise its right to collective self-defense, instituted the controversial state secrets protection law, and threatened freedom of the press and the public's right to know by hinting at invoking the Broadcast Law.
Not only has the Abe administration marginalized the constraints of the Constitution, but it is now trying to start debate on revising the Constitution without seeking the public's input in the upcoming election.
But what can we voters do about the dangers of the administration?
VOTING OUT 'BAD' CANDIDATES
"Strategic voting" is one way to use each vote effectively.
This may be an unfamiliar term, but one example is to vote for candidates−even if they are not one’s best choices--who have a chance to defeat the party or candidate one definitely does not want.
Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), whom Abe often quotes in his speeches, once observed to the effect, "Government is not 'good' by nature. What needs to be borne in mind is to acknowledge the reality of how bad it is."
Political scientist Masao Maruyama (1914-1996) commented on Fukuzawa's observation after World War II: "A political choice is made on the basis of how bad something is."
The failure of the DPJ administration is still fresh in many people's minds. The low voter turnout rates that have continued since the party's fall from power apparently reflect the people's disillusionment with politics and sense of helplessness.
But if nothing is done about this, not only will democracy deteriorate, but constitutionalism will also be in grave danger.
Even if we don't have any candidate or party we want to support, we must make up our minds to go to the polls to stop what we see as "bad" from winning the election.
And we have until July 10 to think through how effectively we can use our two ballots--one for the single-seat electorate and the other for the proportional representation portion.
With 2.4 million 18- and 19-year-olds voting for the first time, the older generation cannot just sit out this upcoming election.