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Editorial: Effectiveness of measures to cope with low birthrate crucial / Results of ‘putting economy 1st’ to be tested

Make effective use of the power base bolstered by the landslide victory in the House of Representatives election, thereby achieving proper results regarding the diverse policy challenges in the areas of domestic politics and diplomacy. This is the mission given to the new Cabinet.


The fourth Cabinet led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been inaugurated. Abe reappointed all 19 of the ministers in his previous Cabinet, which he called a “Cabinet of figures with political expertise,” that was launched in August. This was apparently meant to emphasize the continuity of his policies. All the major executives of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party also remained in office.


In the wake of the breakup of the Democratic Party followed by the formation of a new party, opposition parties were split into seven parliamentary groups within the lower house, with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the No. 1 opposition party, securing only 55 seats. The structure in which the LDP is the predominant force has been reinforced, but Abe should work to run his administration in a humble and careful manner, without becoming conceited.


Run govt carefully


Speaking at a press conference, Abe emphasized, “Having won the strong trust of the public, I will put forward stronger economic policies.” Nearly five years have passed since his second Cabinet was launched in 2012. Now is the time when he is required to achieve results in policy areas.


Abe has continually advocated “putting the economy first.” Although business performance and the employment situation have improved and a moderate economic recovery is continuing, the departure from deflation is still in progress, with most of the public feeling no solid sense of an economic boom. The Abe administration will have to beef up its growth strategy comprehensively, so as to realize domestic demand-driven growth through wage hikes and other measures.


The government will compile a supplementary budget for fiscal 2017 — designed to shore up such measures as those dealing with the chronically low birthrate — and try to have it passed at the ordinary Diet session next year.


A plan to make education free of charge, which the administration will pursue in the name of a “revolution in human resources development,” must not result in lavish government handouts. It is necessary to properly design a relevant system, including adopting income restrictions, so as to enhance the effectiveness of the plan.


A plan to make higher education free of charge, in particular, should aim at realizing “equality of opportunities,” instead of “equality of results.” By discerning students’ aptitude for and their eagerness to study, free education should be made available only to students who truly need it. It is also important to implement reform that will maintain a certain level of academic quality at the universities that accept these students.


Cooperation will be put to the test among ministers in charge of “the revolution in human resources development,” including Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi; Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Katsunobu Kato; and Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.


That Prime Minister Abe has built up his connections with leaders of other major countries over the last nearly five years is a valuable card for Japan’s diplomacy.


Consensus on top law


At a time when the threat presented by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development is growing, U.S. President Donald Trump will arrive in Japan on Sunday. Abe and Trump should reaffirm a plan to stick firmly to an approach that strengthens pressure on North Korea, including through the enforcement of sanctions resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council, and continues multilayered diplomatic efforts involving China and Russia.


In the first half of November, summit talks related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be held. Abe should boost cooperation with the countries concerned to ensure stability in the North Korea situation, the East China Sea and the South China Sea.


The deterrent provided by a robust Japan-U.S. alliance will be essential for preventing North Korea from lashing out. Defense cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military — and the nations’ abilities to handle any situation, including missile defense systems — must be steadily improved and expanded.


The skills of Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera will be put to the test on these issues.


Constitutional revision is also an important topic to be addressed. A bright spot on this issue is that not only the LDP, Komeito and Nippon Ishin no Kai but also Kibo no To (Party of Hope) are positive about changing the top law. Each party emphasized their respective positions during the lower house election campaign, which has set the stage for constructive discussions.


As a first step, the LDP should hold talks with each party after consolidating its thinking on four proposed revisions, including adding wording to clearly define the existence of the SDF. It will be crucial to seek a broad consensus and adopt a flexible approach that includes also listening to the opinions of other parties.


The government and ruling parties initially planned to have the special Diet session, which convened Wednesday, run for eight days. This plan was changed to a 39-day session lasting until Dec. 9. This is a natural step to allow for the prime minister to deliver a policy speech, questions by leaders of each party and interpellations at the lower house Budget Committee.


Abe did not deliver a policy speech in the Diet after reshuffling the Cabinet in August. His continued delay in doing this, even after the launch of his new Cabinet, belittles the importance of the Diet and is unreasonable.


The ruling and opposition parties are at loggerheads over how much time each side is allocated to ask questions at the Budget Committee. In recent years, about 20 percent of the time was set aside for the ruling parties, and 80 percent for the opposition. The ruling parties called for this proportion to be reviewed in light of the number of seats they hold, but the opposition camp bristled at this, arguing it “would limit questions” its lawmakers could ask. During the administration of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan several years ago, opposition parties were allocated their current proportion of about 80 percent of question time.


End turmoil


If the opposition parties demand their time for asking questions be retained, they must engage in more constructive debates and rethink their approach of pointless questions heavily tilted toward hounding the government on scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Educational Institution.


The opposition parties also need to quickly bring under control the turmoil rumbling within many of them.


Kibo has yet to select a party coleader, and it is unclear whether Kibo can retain its position as a conservative opposition party. The Democratic Party selected House of Councillors lawmaker Kohei Otsuka as the successor to Seiji Maehara, who stepped down as leader after the election, but the party’s future remains fluid.


The easy merging and splitting of political parties has heightened public distrust in them. Each party should properly solidify its position and then engage in Diet discussions.

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