The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rejuvenating the Japanese economy, building new social security systems, responding to the North Korean crisis and amending the Constitution — the significance of asking again for the confidence of the public through a national election is to grapple with these difficult problems and make headway in political management.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his intention to dissolve the House of Representatives for a general election. At the outset of an extraordinary Diet session to be convened on Thursday, the lower house will be dissolved. The start of official campaigning will be announced on Oct. 10, with voting and ballot-counting set for Oct. 22.
“[The upcoming lower house dissolution] is a dissolution for surmounting a national crisis,” the prime minister said at a press conference.
The dissolution comes less than two months after Abe launched what he called a “cabinet of figures with political expertise.” Undoubtedly, the prime minister has changed his strategy.
Tackle difficult issues
Abe would initiate the process of constitutional amendment in next year’s ordinary Diet session, and then he would win reelection as president of the Liberal Democratic Party for a third term that autumn. He would call a lower house election, also considering a possible plan to conduct a national referendum on constitutional revision along with the election.
Initially, such a political calendar was deemed to be probable.
The prime minister’s decision to move up the lower house dissolution can be viewed as a result of comprehensively judging such factors as a recovery in the approval rating for his Cabinet, turmoil prevailing in the opposition Democratic Party and an imminent plan by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and others to form a new party.
As the reason for the dissolution, the prime minister cited a change in the designated purpose for the use of a revenue increase to be accrued from a planned rise in the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in October 2019.
He said a reduction will be made in the use of the revenue increase for repayment of national debts, thereby raising about ¥2 trillion in financial resources for such purposes as child-rearing assistance and the expansion of free-of-charge education.
“It’ll be impossible to promote major reforms that could divide public opinion, without gaining the confidence of the public,” the prime minister said.
Social security systems have been said to place a disproportionate emphasis on elderly people. It is understandable for the prime minister to make progress in turning the systems into schemes that would serve all generations, including young people. Further increasing the efficiency of a system for benefits intended for elderly people should not be avoided, either.
Fiscal health vital
Meanwhile, a plan to make higher education free of charge will require a massive amount of financial resources, and could expand unfairness in the burden-benefit relationship and lower the quality of universities. It is necessary to cautiously examine the proposed scheme, by limiting students eligible for the scheme to those who truly need such assistance.
What should not be forgotten is to continue to uphold the banner of fiscal reconstruction.
The prime minister expressed his awareness that envisaged cuts in repayments for national debts will make it difficult to achieve the target for a primary balance surplus in fiscal 2020. He must present a new fiscal reconstruction goal at an early date and gain popular understanding for that objective.
It is also indispensable for him to create economic conditions in which the consumption tax hike — already postponed twice — will be certainly carried out in 2019 by reinforcing and expanding the Abenomics economic policy package.
Regarding the issue of North Korea, Abe said, “Without submitting to the threat of North Korea, we will advance powerful diplomacy,” expressing his intention of adhering to the policy of putting pressure on Pyongyang.
The issue is, at present, the biggest outstanding problem for Japan’s security. It has become ever more serious as North Korea defiantly carried out its sixth nuclear test and launched ballistic missiles twice that flew over Japan.
In order to press North Korea to abandon its nuclear aspirations, there may be no other way but to search for an opening for dialogue, while building up the pressure by stringently implementing the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions resolutions.
It is also necessary to be careful not to fan the crisis too much.
The security-related legislation, enacted in 2015, is an important legal basis for underpinning the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance against North Korea. It is important for the Abe administration to properly appeal its significance.
Regarding constitutional amendment, Abe emphasizes his ideas of aiming, for instance, at adding a provision defining the legal grounds for the Self-Defense Forces and creating a clause to deal with emergencies in the event of a major disaster.
The unusual situation in which many constitutional scholars question whether the existence of the SDF violates the Constitution — despite the SDF having actively contributed to the maintenance of peace for postwar Japan — must be dispelled as much as possible.
The idea of amending the Constitution as proposed by Abe in May has gained a certain amount of support, but Komeito has not relaxed its cautious stance, leaving the issue somewhat deadlocked. The upcoming dissolution is also likely a means by which Abe aims for a breakthrough in this situation.
Rather than remaining at their present strength, in which the LDP, Komeito and Nippon Ishin no Kai cooperate, the pro-amendment parties may also join hands with Kibo no To (Party of hope), the new party which Koike announced the creation of. Under the new framework, these parties could secure a two-thirds majority at the lower house and initiate an amendment. Such a development is also plausible.
In light of the criticism broadcast by opposition parties, saying that the lower house dissolution is being used as a means of “concealing suspicions tied to Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution,” Abe stated, “I am bracing for a tough election.”
Even if there will no longer be any substantial deliberations held during the extraordinary Diet session, Abe and the government still have a responsibility to explain the series of events that have aroused suspicions. It is important for both to continue making scrupulous explanations.
The right to dissolve the lower house has long been considered, and has taken hold, as one “exclusively belonging to the prime minister.” It is reasonable for the prime minister to carry out a general election at the time he considers most appropriate so as to realize the politics and policies which he himself aims at.
There is not much more than a year left before the term of the current lower house members expires in December next year. It is high time for parties to make preparations for an election by readying themselves for an electoral battle that may erupt at any time. Opposition parties’ criticism that “there is no just reason for the lower house to be dissolved” doesn’t make sense.
Abe, for his part, may have to repeatedly promote the significance of the lower house dissolution and what it is aimed at, while taking to heart that all his political stances and policies will be subjected to the verdict of the people.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 26, 2017)