The ordinary session of the Diet has reached its second half following the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito and the 10-day “Golden Week” period of public holidays. During the remainder of the session, which runs through June 26, Japan’s political parties have planned debate on important bills covering issues linked directly to people’s lives — from making education and day care for young children free, to preventing child abuse. Yet it is difficult to describe these bills as legislation involving any confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties.
This comes from the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe focusing on preparations for the House of Councillors election following the close of the regular session of the Diet. But is it acceptable to treat the latter half of the regular Diet session as a “throwaway match” in this way?
It appears that the Abe government is attempting to use the celebratory mood following the start of the Reiwa era in conjunction with Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement to give itself the upper hand in the election battlefield. Some administration officials have even started suggesting that with any luck, elections could be held for both chambers of the Diet on the same day.
But ushering in a new Imperial era doesn’t mean that the problems facing modern Japan, such as the country’s declining birth rate and the weakening of regional areas, are solved. The administration will also face questions over how it will steer the country diplomatically to achieve peace and stability in an increasingly uncertain international situation marked by confrontation between the United States and China and other such issues.
The topics that the ruling and opposition parties should debate ahead of the upper house election are mounting. The role of the opposition should be to make the remainder of the Diet session a forum for forming points of contention for the upper house poll, and to hold the kind of political debate that will provide material for voters to reach a decision.
The Diet affairs chiefs of five opposition parties including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan met on May 8 and asked the ruling coalition to agree to hold intensive Budget Committee deliberations attended by Prime Minister Abe and to stage party leaders’ debates. We hope to see productive debate at the party leader-level that will contribute to the upper house election.
That being said, simply taking up an anti-Abe stance by calling for a halt to the planned increase in Japan’s consumption tax and for the abolishment of the nation’s security legislation enacted in 2015 will not mean that the opposition parties have presented a choice for voters.
The opposition parties need to paint a picture of a new age beyond “Abenomics,” as the Abe administration’s economic policy mix is known, and make an effort to put forward that vision in a way that is easy for the public to understand.
For example, the opposition parties could propose a blueprint for a multicultural and inclusive society with respect for a diverse sense of values, in light of Japan’s recent expansion in the number of foreign laborers accepted into the country.
Furthermore, at a time when such social divisions as the gap between rich and poor are emerging as problems for capitalism worldwide, there is a need for a model for economic development that does not cast out the weak.
However, when the Democratic Party for the People and the Liberal Party recently rushed to merge before the Golden Week holiday period, discussion of their policies was sorely lacking. If their move was hastily carried out in response to the threat hinted at by the government administration of holding the House of Representatives and House of Councillors elections on the same day, it would be regrettable.
The opposition parties indeed need to realign themselves to face off against the powerful ruling coalition, but there will be no heightened expectations from the public if the opposition parties leave their policy ideals behind.