Once again, Abenomics will be the point of contention in the House of Councillors election.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the second postponement of the consumption tax increase to 10% on June 1, he said, “It is necessary to crank up the engine of Abenomics to its maximum capacity.” This was exactly the same thing he said in November 2014, when he postponed the tax hike for the first time and dissolved the House of Representatives.
Abe is aiming at a repeat of the electoral victory of 2014 based on his judgment that delaying the consumption tax hike will be good for the Upper House election.
Asahi Shimbun’s opinion poll in May showed that some 60% of respondents favored a postponement.
The idea of “realization of a society for the dynamic engagement of all citizens,” a theme repeated in Abe’s June 1 news conference, has been promoted for some time to gradually make the people associate the administration mainly with the economy. Abe already had a detailed political schedule since nearly a year ago.
The administration moved swiftly after the passage of the unpopular security laws last year. On Sept. 24, five days after the enactment, new economic policies under the concept of a society of dynamic engagement were announced.
It drew the people’s attention to three numerical targets: 600 trillion nominal GDP, birth rate of 1.8, and zero workers leaving their jobs to provide nursing care to family members. In October, a “national conference” was launched to discuss concrete policies, and in about a month, this body came up with emergency measures, including building more childcare facilities.
Subsequently, the government co-opted as its own policies various proposals made by the Democratic Party and others, such as better compensation for childcare and nursing care workers, equal pay for equal work, and 1,000 yen minimum hourly wage.
Since the inauguration of the second Abe cabinet, the Prime Minister has been operating with such “duplicity” – plunging into realizing his pet policies without regard for public opinion after an election and coming up with new economic policies when an election is approaching.
The Abe administration is characterized by a clear distinction between a “sowing period,” when it enhances its policy execution ability by advocating new economic policies, which the people have a great interest in, and a “harvest period,” when it pushes forward with pet policies even without the public’s support.
For example, in the 2013 Upper House election, Abe put aside his previous slogan of “departure from the postwar regime” and gave top priority to the economy, leading the ruling parties to a landslide victory.
In the extraordinary Diet session convened right after the election, he worked on the enactment of the special state secrets protection law as his top priority.
In late 2014, Abe announced the postponement of the consumption tax hike and dissolved the Lower House for a general election, telling the voters “this is the only option for economic recovery,” because he had sowed his seeds well.
Six months before the election, the cabinet had passed a decision authorizing the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, causing a downward slide of the cabinet support rating. The simultaneous local elections were also scheduled for 2015, so the administration went on offensive with the slogan of “regional revitalization.” In the cabinet reshuffle that fall, Abe had created a new position of minister in charge of women’s empowerment, an area which used to be one of the administration’s weaknesses, in addition to naming a regional revitalization minister.
The present concept of “society of dynamic engagement” is also a slogan the administration came up with for the Upper House election, adding to this the postponement of the consumption tax hike. Abe highlighted growth-oriented Abenomics amid criticism that he is passing on the burden [of society security] to the future and that the tax hike delay is certain to affect social security.
It is reckoned that if Abe’s “sowing” proves to be successful and the pro-constitutional revision forces gain a two-thirds majority in both houses of the Diet through the upcoming Upper House election, Abe will move to tackle procedures for constitutional amendment.
Reitaku University Prof. Hidetsugu Yagi, an adviser to Abe, says: “The Tokyo Olympic Games are going to be held. If the economy improves, [Abe] will certainly work for constitutional revision. I think the Prime Minister is thinking about how to create an environment conducive for constitutional amendment.” (Abridged)