Political parties must spell out their visions for Japan
Japan stands at a crossroads. The direction it takes will be critical to determining whether Japan can remain one of the world's leading nations.
As political gridlock continues and the economy staggers along, the people's sense that the country is stagnating has been growing. How can the nation overcome this situation?
During the upcoming House of Representatives election campaign, we urge each party to present the course they want Japan to pursue and a new "vision" for this nation. Each party then needs to provide voters with detailed policy proposals based on these ideas.
How to overcome deflation?
In his book, Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano pointed out that the nation must wake up from its dreamlike "growth illusion" and face up to reality. Edano argues that Japan, which has become a mature society, can no longer expect growth to just happen. Even maintaining Japan's economic vigor is not an easy task, he says.
Behind the failure of the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration to hammer out an effective growth strategy and economy-boosting measures, we suspect "pessimism" like Edano's is rooted in people's minds.
But if economic sluggishness and deflation continue, which leads to negative growth, it might further hollow out the nation's industry and shake the foundation of social security systems and national security.
Consequently, we believe it essential for the nation to pursue stable growth and enhance its international competitiveness so it can maintain its national strength.
How to overcome deflation, reignite the economy and rectify disparities are probably the issues of most interest to people ahead of the election.
Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe has said his administration, if realized, would work closely with the Bank of Japan in policy coordination to implement bold monetary easing measures. He also said the LDP-led administration would reinvigorate regional economies by "improving infrastructure to serve as investment for the future."
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had few kind words for the LDP plan, saying, "I don't think Japan can be revitalized through a policy of promoting lavish public works projects." Instead, he again trumpeted his government's revitalization strategy aimed at fostering new markets in such fields as the environment and medicine and creating jobs.
But this strategy has so far produced little. The DPJ should present more convincing economic measures.
Japan's future will be swayed by whether it participates in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade framework to harness the vigor of rapidly growing Asian economies. The DPJ and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) are set to vocally support joining the TPP talks.
TPP, nuclear energy key issues
The LDP has taken a cautious stance on the TPP. It opposes the nation's participation in TPP negotiations as long as the pact is premised on the elimination of all tariffs "without sanctuary." But Abe, stressing the LDP's bargaining leverage, is poised to shift to a stance that supports participation in the talks. This change of tack is reasonable since the party seeks to return to power.
In preparation for further market liberalization, deeper discussions should be held on how to strengthen the international competitiveness of Japan's agricultural sector.
Deciding on an energy policy--especially what to do with the nation's nuclear power plants--also will be essential in designing Japan's future.
The DPJ has declared a policy of achieving "zero nuclear power generation" by the 2030s.
However, it is naive to expect that renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, will smoothly become more widely used. Japan's trade deficit has reached a record high, partly due to increased costs for fuel for thermal power generation as a substitute for idled nuclear reactors. It seems unavoidable that electricity charges will be raised further.
There also are fears that abolishing nuclear plants will lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which will have an adverse impact on the environment.
It is irresponsible to tout the "zero nuclear" policy without showing a concrete path to achieve this goal. The business world and the United States, which concluded a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Japan, have expressed strong concern over the nation's energy policy.
On this point, we applaud the LDP for declaring it will "act responsibly" to restart idled nuclear plants after it returns to power. We urge the party to reveal its medium- to long-term energy policy as well.
Integrated reform of the social security and tax systems will also be a major issue in the election, as some parties have called for the consumption tax increase to be annulled or frozen.
Under the law on the integrated reform, which was enacted through concerted efforts by the DPJ, LDP and New Komeito, the consumption tax rate will be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014, and to 10 percent in October 2015.
In our view, parties are just pandering to the public if their objective is only to prevent the consumption tax from being raised. They need to clarify how else they could fund social security costs, which are increasing by 1 trillion yen every year, and rebuild the nation's finances.
In its campaign manifesto for the Dec. 16 election, Komeito included a pledge to introduce a reduced consumption tax rate for daily necessities to alleviate the burden the tax hike would impose on low-income earners. We believe this reduced rate issue also might become a major topic during the campaign.
Ishin no Kai must clarify policies to vie with DPJ, LDP
If a new party aspires to become a third major force in national politics and take on the two main parties--the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party--it will need to present clear proposals for addressing this nation's challenges.
Former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party) has decided to merge into Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. The new party will be led by Ishihara, with Hashimoto as acting leader.
Hoping to capitalize on the high name recognition of both Ishihara and Hashimoto, Ishin no Kai is looking to fare well in the upcoming House of Representatives election, not only in proportional representation blocs but also in single-seat districts where large parties are seen as holding an advantage.
However, the two parties' merger was announced abruptly after Ishihara dropped an already announced plan to join forces with tax-slashing Genzei Nippon. The move thus smacks of a mutual-aid deal designed only to win the election.
Accord full of problems
The policy agreement put together by Ishin no Kai and Taiyo no To is fraught with problems.
On nuclear power generation--a central issue in the election--the accord merely mentioned a need to set rules on safety standards. This likely was the result of disagreement between Ishin no Kai, which supports ending the nation's reliance on nuclear power in the 2030s, and Taiyo no To, which has been critical of the zero nuclear option.
We agree with Ishihara's assertion that nuclear power policy needs to be discussed from a multifaceted viewpoint that takes economic and industrial factors into consideration. A zero nuclear policy is unrealistic at this point.
The proposal to make the consumption tax a local tax, a centerpiece of Ishin no Kai's platform, did make it into the agreement, although it was widely believed that Ishihara was less than enthusiastic about putting the consumption tax under local government control. If Ishihara has made an about-face, he needs to explain himself.
Concerning the Senkaku Islands, the accord called for urging China to make its case before the International Court of Justice. We question whether this position amounts to Japan admitting there exists a territorial dispute with China.
Regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework, the accord "supports participation in the TPP negotiations but opposes entry if the talks show it is not in the national interest." This appears to be a blending of the pro-TPP stance of Ishin no Kai and the anti-TPP position of Taiyo no To.
A merger of convenience?
Other parties have denounced the tie-up as "a merger of convenience without policy." Hashimoto has refuted this. "We are much closer [on policy matters] than other conventional parties are," he said.
Even so, we worry that after the election, Ishin no Kai would be continually enveloped in chaos over internal policy differences, as has been the case with the DPJ.
Your Party has been lobbying to join forces with Ishin no Kai in next month's general election, also hoping to increase its national presence as a part of a third political pole. Furthermore, the People's Life First party is exploring ways to join hands with other parties by trumpeting its opposition to the planned consumption tax increase and its support of a zero nuclear policy.
These are moves intended to sway non-affiliated voters, who have increased due to a decline in people's trust in politics during the three-plus years of the DPJ-led administration.
We urge political parties to avoid promoting policies aimed only at pandering to the people, and to sufficiently scrutinize their platforms.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2012)
Political system damaged by DPJ's aversion to bureaucracy
The first thing the Democratic Party of Japan should do before the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election is review its past three years and two months in power. Can the DPJ do serious soul-searching on the plethora of issues it has mishandled and reflect the lessons learned in its campaign pledges for the upcoming election?
The public approval rating for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was as high as 75 percent when it was inaugurated after the 2009 lower house election. Public approval of the current administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has declined to just 24 percent, showing how the public's initial high expectations of the DPJ were dashed after the change of government.
Under the DPJ government, the nation's politics have continued to suffer from confusion and stagnation, and this is not just because the Diet is divided. It is mostly because the party is incapable of managing the government.
This was symbolized by the DPJ's failed manifesto for the last general election. After reviewing its pledges, the party concluded that only 53 of them--including making tuition at public high schools free--had been implemented during its tenure. The figure represents only about 30 percent of the 170 original promises.
The DPJ has many things to reflect on. Among its blunders, it was extremely optimistic to believe it could secure 16.8 trillion yen a year just through tweaking spending plans. It also suffered a setback in seeking to cancel construction of the Yamba Dam in Gunma Prefecture because it made the decision without consulting parties involved.
The DPJ's misguided "politician-led policymaking" have caused the administration to repeatedly malfunction.
DPJ should reflect on blunders
Its budget screening initiative turned out to be nothing more than politicians playing to the gallery by bashing bureaucrats, and the process squeezed out only a limited amount of fiscal resources.
Based on an opposition-like stance, the DPJ took a hostile of view of bureaucrats and shunned the bureaucracy in deciding and carrying out policies. This weakened both the political and bureaucratic systems because public servants only awaited instructions from ministers, and politicians were not informed of important matters.
This problem became particularly apparent following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, when Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Cabinet failed to respond promptly. This caused confusion in helping the people in the disaster-hit areas and in dealing with the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Politicians are supposed to fully utilize bureaucrats and try to bring out their best.
When it comes to nuclear energy, the DPJ initially said operations of reactors should be resumed once their safety was confirmed. However, the party abruptly proposed an infeasible zero-nuclear power policy instead, and caused widespread confusion due to insufficient coordination with the United States and domestic local governments that host nuclear power plants.
On the economic front, the DPJ could not propose an effective growth strategy even though it promised to revive the nation's economy. It also failed to work together with the business community.
Under the slogan "from concrete to people," the government has slashed spending on public works projects from 7.1 trillion yen for fiscal 2009 to 4.6 trillion yen for fiscal 2012--a decrease that has battered local economies.
Furthermore, because of other problematic policies such as those for budgetary handouts, the general account appropriations in the initial fiscal 2012 state budget have swollen to 96.7 trillion yen, including budgets for restoration from the Great East Japan Earthquake and related expenditures, from 88.5 trillion yen in fiscal 2009.
With the issuance of deficit-covering bonds having exceeded 30 trillion yen every year in recent years, government finances have deteriorated steadily as shown by the fact that the outstanding balance of government debts is expected to reach 709 trillion yen at the end of this fiscal year--a drastic jump from fiscal 2009's 594 trillion yen.
Former DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa, meanwhile, has failed to take responsibility even after his former secretaries were found guilty in September 2011 of charges of violating the Political Funds Control Law, tarnishing the public's image of the DPJ as a clean party.
Political parties to be tested on their ability to deliver
The public's attention has recently been directed to whether the ruling Democratic Party of Japan will continue to lead the government or the two main opposition forces, the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, will return to power. The focus has also been on the extent to which Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other new political parties can expand their influence.
The upcoming House of Representatives election is expected to be critical as it could chart the course for the nation's future.
On Friday, the lower house was dissolved. The general election is set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4. For all intents and purposes, the election battle has effectively kicked off.
In the election, the DPJ will be evaluated on its performance during its three-year rule by three prime ministers since Yukio Hatoyama.
Noda recognized for bold acts
During the 2009 lower house election campaign, the potential for a change in government was high, and the DPJ earned a stunning victory. But many voters appear to be suffering from the present political disorder and a decision-making stalemate as result of the party's win.
There are plenty of issues that the DPJ has mishandled. These include diplomatic missteps by the Hatoyama Cabinet when it pursued politician-led handling of state affairs in the wrong way and the ineptitude of Naoto Kan's administration in addressing the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
At a press conference Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said: "I previously said I would ask for a public mandate once the integrated reform of the social security and tax systems was achieved. I dissolved [the lower house] to fulfill this promise."
It is indeed a historic accomplishment that the prime minister was able to pass integrated reform bills, which center on bills to raise the consumption tax rate, in the divided Diet, where the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition. We can understand that he respected an agreement with the LDP and Komeito, which cooperated with Noda's party to enact the historic bills.
We also applaud Noda for following through with the dissolution even though many of DPJ members, including Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi, opposed the breakup of the chamber and election prospects were dim for the party.
The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has also been declining. In a recent Yomiuri Shimbun survey, the rating plunged to 19 percent, the lowest since the Cabinet's inauguration in September of last year. Furthermore, DPJ members continue to leave the party, with no end in sight to the defections.
Noda said at the press conference Friday: "We have an ongoing political situation in which we are unable to make decisions. By dissolving [the lower house], I'd like to put an end to this evil practice."
Regardless of the election outcome, the Diet will remain divided at least until next summer's upper house election, as no party holds a majority of seats in the chamber. To move politics forward, it is essential for parties to cooperate with one another or form a coalition.
Interparty cooperation needed
The increase in the consumption tax is only halfway complete based on the agreement by the DPJ, the LDP and Komeito. To achieve the intended reform of the social security and tax systems, the three parties are likely to be urged to maintain their cooperative stance after the election.
A stable government with either of the two major parties at its center is needed most for Japan's revival. We consider it unfavorable to have a coalition government consisting of multiple parties since consensus building would be slow going.
However, several new parties, including Ishin no Kai and Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), recently have emerged one after another, aiming to become a third political force following the DPJ and the LDP.
With the unprecedented number of more than 10 parties campaigning, efforts are also under way to unite them. The new parties aim to attract voters frustrated with established political parties.
Many former lower house members who have just lost their Diet seats due to the dissolution are quitting the parties they belonged to and joining new parties, in an apparent attempt to survive the upcoming general election. We must seek to find the true value of a potential third political force.
We expect each party to clarify its vision for the future of Japan and list its policies according to priority.
The public has completely lost faith in the DPJ's manifesto made in the 2009 lower house election. The party's unfulfilled handout policy pledges, such as the child-rearing allowance of 26,000 yen per month and the abolition of expressway tolls, have failed to materialize due to a lack of financing. This has only led to an amplification of voters' distrust in politics.
Parties must not repeat the mistake of competing with each other to win an election by making policy promises that appeal to voters, but which are unfeasible.
In drafting new election pledges, parties should consider that a bill could fail without the cooperation of other parties in the divided Diet. Only setting deadlines for realizing election promises and other numerical targets is meaningless.
Noda again stressed his policy to achieve zero nuclear power generation in the 2030s.
The upcoming election will determine "whether the party aiming to depart from the nation's dependence on nuclear power or the party promoting the conventional energy policy will win," said the prime minister.
Japan needs sound strategy to deal with Xi administration
The Chinese Communist Party held the first plenary session of the 18th Central Committee on Thursday and made enormous changes to its leadership. The session marked the beginning of the Xi Jinping regime that will steer China through the next decade.
Xi, the new party general secretary, held a press conference on the day. "Our responsibility is to unite and lead people of the entire party and of all ethnic groups around the country while...continuing to work for realizing the great revival of the Chinese nation in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world," he said.
In line with Xi's words, it seems evident that China will continue to advance along its path of reform and opening-up while maintaining a political system dominated by a single party. China will also seek to further expand its economic and military might, aiming at becoming a superpower on par with the United States. Its policy of expansion both militarily and economically will not change anytime soon.
Can Xi exercise leadership?
Xi, the son of a former vice premier, is known as the leader of the so-called princelings, the influential offspring of high-ranking party officials. However, with his elders still holding sway in the party, it remains unclear to what extent he can exercise his leadership.
Noteworthy in the latest leadership appointments is that Hu Jintao, who led China for 10 years during his two terms, not only vacated the general secretary post but also stepped down as chairman of the Central Military Commission, handing over both posts to Xi.
When Jiang Zemin stepped aside to make way for Hu as party leader, he remained military chief for nearly two more years. By giving up both posts, Hu likely is trying to end the dual-rule framework that has complicated decision-making by top leaders.
Yet, Hu appears to have retained influence by promoting senior military leaders close to him as vice chairmen of the commission before the party's National Congress. He also placed members of his faction in the Politburo. These actions point to a desire by Hu to retain power in the party leadership even after he retires from his leadership posts.
This becomes even more clear considering that Hu's "scientific development concept," which aims to engineer balanced, sustainable development, was promoted to an official guiding socio-economic ideology at the congress, and is now enshrined in the party's charter.
Also, the Politburo Standing Committee was reduced from nine members to seven. More than the desires of Xi, the line-up of the committee reflects a power struggle between Jiang and Hu.
Taming social problems urgent
Xi is scheduled to become president next spring and with that will attain China's leadership trifecta--party, state and military.
The top priority of the Xi administration is likely to be easing the social strains that have been intensifying in the nation. China needs to get serious about dealing with expanding income and other disparities, corruption in high-ranking officials, and environmental destruction--all problems that have accompanied rapid economic growth.
The boycott against Japanese goods being staged in protest of Japan's nationalization of some of the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture has impacted not only the Japanese economy but also Chinese businesses. The Xi administration should immediately exert self-restraint regarding coercive diplomatic tactics.
How should the Japanese government grapple with China's policy of military and economic expansion? We believe a calm grasp of the situation is essential to consolidate strategy toward China.
Through a multipronged approach via the East Asia Summit and other frameworks, Japan should step up its efforts to engage China to ensure it will fulfill the international responsibility that comes with national power.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 16, 2012)
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Prime minister's gutsy decision deserves credit
Out of the blue, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced he will dissolve the House of Representatives. Amid simmering opposition to an early dissolution within his Democratic Party of Japan, Noda has put everything on the line in a bid to bring an end to the nation's political gridlock.
During a Diet debate with Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Noda said he would dissolve the lower house Friday if the opposition promises to pass a bill to reduce the number of lower house seats during next year's ordinary Diet session.
Abe initially gave no clear response to Noda's offer. But after the debate and a meeting with senior LDP figures, Abe said, "We'll do our best to conclude the issue in the ordinary Diet session." This paved the way for the lower house to be dissolved Friday.
The lower house election is now set for Dec. 16 with official campaigning to start Dec. 4.
Prevent further distrust
The public approval rating for Noda's Cabinet has been languishing for months, so the DPJ could suffer a crushing defeat in the election. However, we applaud the prime minister's sensible and weighty decision to dissolve the chamber for a general election.
In August, Noda expressed his intention to dissolve the lower house "sometime soon." If he had let the year end without settling the dissolution issue, questions would have been raised over the credibility of his remarks. That could have fueled public distrust with politics.
The prime minister apparently wanted to initiate the dissolution on his own terms, rather than having his hand forced. Noda also probably felt it was to his advantage to hold the election before Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other smaller parties can unite and form a third major political force.
Noda's decision drew howls of protest from DPJ members who oppose the dissolution and currently dominate the party. They fear the dissolution could lead to a political vacuum.
However, if Noda puts off tackling key policy issues and unnecessarily attempts to cling to power at a time when his administration is standing on shaky ground, the nation would end up confronting an even more serious political vacuum in both domestic and foreign affairs.
Some DPJ members who oppose Noda's decision are openly preparing to leave the party. Dissolving the lower house is a prerogative given to a prime minister. If DPJ members cannot accept their leader's decision, they have no choice but to walk away.
Among people who assumed that the lower house would be dissolved within the year, concern grew as time passed that stalling on the dissolution would cause delays in formulating next fiscal year's budget and its enactment.
From the standpoint of staving off any negative impact on the economy that would inevitably arise if the budget were delayed, we consider Noda's setting the dissolution for Nov. 16--the earliest possible date--as reasonable.
A new administration is certain to be launched by the end of this year. We want it to formulate the budget for the next fiscal year and deal with pressing issues, such as measures to shore up the nation's economy and revamp its diplomacy.
Irrespective of whether it was acceptable for Noda to push Abe to accept conditions for the dissolution during their debate--like forcing him to step on a cherished picture in a "fumie" allegiance test from long ago--we support the prime minister's exercise of his right to dissolve the chamber without flinching, even while his own party is torn over the issue.
Trust among 3 parties crucial
The Diet likely will remain divided even after the upcoming election. Accordingly, it will be very significant if the DPJ, the LDP and the other main opposition party, New Komeito, can maintain a relationship of trust to some extent and build a cooperative framework.
Although there is not much time before the lower house is broken up, the ruling and opposition camps should work together to tidy up some urgent issues.
The three parties have agreed to pass Friday a bill allowing the government to issue deficit-covering bonds. To avoid the depletion of state coffers, the parties must make sure the bill passes before the lower house is dissolved.
Another crucial task is narrowing the disparity in the value of votes between the House of Representatives' most- and least-populated districts, thus putting an end to the electoral system's "state of unconstitutionality."
The DPJ should be blamed for not fulfilling its responsibility to seriously address the issue just because it wanted to postpone the dissolution.
The party still insists on handling two issues--reducing single-seat constituencies by five and cutting the number of seats in the proportional representation system--as a set.
This posturing appears to be a DPJ attempt to show its resolve to cut the number of lower house seats--a stance that will go down well with voters because it shows Diet members are willing to sacrifice themselves to save money before the consumption tax rate is increased. However, there is not enough time for the Diet to reach a consensus on this issue before the dissolution.
To rectify the electoral system's unconstitutional state, the lower house should first pass a bill to reduce single-seat constituencies by five, and then rezone constituencies before holding a general election under the new system. This whole process, however, would take several months.
A more realistic option would be for the lower house to pass the bill before its dissolution and cut the number of seats in the proportional representation bloc and make other reforms during next year's ordinary Diet session. This is the minimum responsibility it should fulfill.
If a general election was held without passing the electoral reform bill, judicial authorities might rule the election was unconstitutional and therefore invalid. Lawmakers must ensure this does not happen.