Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is urged to move policy issues steadily forward by taking advantage of his government’s stable footing, which he secured with a landslide victory in the recent House of Representatives election. To that end, it is essential to carefully form a consensus with the opposition camp.
Abe delivered a policy speech before both houses of the Diet. The speech focused on the North Korean issue and measures to counter the low birthrate and aging population — challenges that he had described as a “national crisis” during the lower house election campaign.
It was the shortest policy speech Abe has given in the Diet while in power. Even though he plans to deliver another policy speech after the turn of the year, the speech left much to be desired as he stopped short of offering visions, despite his prospects for a long-running government. It is hoped that Abe will give specifics in future deliberations.
In the speech, the prime minister said, “Japan will work together with the international community to increase pressure on North Korea further.” Naming the leaders with whom he held talks last week — U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping — Abe stressed the results of head-of-state diplomacy.
Efforts must be made to make North Korea abandon its nuclear and missile development, while making preparations to respond to contingencies such as by strengthening the missile defense system. Abe is urged to hold a trilateral meeting of the Japanese, Chinese and South Korean leaders early and press Beijing, which holds the key to pressuring North Korea, to take more action.
To overcome the challenge of the low birthrate and graying population, Abe expressed his determination to “undertake a major reform of our country’s economic and social system with an eye to an era of 100-year lifespans.” The prime minister said he would strive for “a revolution in human resource development” and “a productivity revolution,” which were included in his party’s election pledges.
Abe announced plans to realize free tuition at kindergartens and nurseries for children aged 3 to 5 by fiscal 2020. He also mentioned a plan to make higher education free, but limiting the target to “children truly in need.”
Tackling the falling birthrate is indeed an urgent task, but hasty, pork-barrel measures would leave a hefty debt for future generations. It is necessary to exercise wisdom to design a balanced system by examining its cost-effectiveness.
Touching upon a planned increase in the consumption tax rate in October 2019, Abe also vowed to “surely achieve fiscal soundness.” However, his speech was again short on specifics. He should specify soon a new road map for fiscal reconstruction.
Calling for the opposition camp to hold constructive policy discussions, Abe said, “Discussions on the amendment of the Constitution will also move forward through efforts to find answers to challenging issues.”
In a political reorganization brought about by the lower house election, the landscape in the opposition bloc has changed.
There must be ample room for the ruling parties to work together with Kibo no To (Party of Hope) and Nippon Ishin no Kai, which opt for a realistic approach, on issues such as constitutional revision and security. The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan also has not ruled out revising the Constitution. It is hoped that the parties will deepen discussions on the issue.
Abe must eliminate arrogance from his Liberal Democratic Party’s “one-party dominance” and transform “humility,” which he stressed in the election campaign, into concrete action. An attitude of making compromises with the opposition bloc when necessary could produce major results.