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Commentary: Limits of the contest between LDP and opposition parties

By Hiroshi Marutani, political news editor


The latest House of Councillors election was the first national election in the Reiwa Era. It ended in a victory for the ruling bloc between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito party. The first national election in the first year of Heisei was also a House of Councillors election, but the results differed significantly.


In the first year of Heisei, the LDP lost a majority for the first time since its founding and in consequence the prime minister stepped down. It can be said that all political issues overlapping with the Heisei Era originated with this Upper House election.


Thereafter, a change of government took place four times, but the period in which the LDP became an opposition party was only about four years. Thirty years have passed since then, and the LDP remains unrivaled, as seen in the latest Upper House election. How should we view the election results this time?


One reason for the latest election result is probably that the framework of only anti-LDP and LDP fellow travelers [parties sympathetic to the LDP aims but which don’t join hands with it] alone no longer appeals to voters as it once did. Public opinion polls show the nation is equally split over the scheduled consumption tax hike. Opposition parties kept step with each other over how to deal with the consumption tax hike, but the election results for the opposition parties’ united front for single constituencies were no different from those of the previous election.


Opposition parties focused on the issue of “20 million yen in savings after retirement” at the beginning of the election campaign, but this did not catch fire with voters, with the result that debate on social security remained tepid during the campaign.


Discussion of diplomacy and security policies lacked depth as well. During the election campaign, the U.S. called for establishing a coalition of the willing to patrol the Strait of Hormuz. This is an issue with a crucial bearing on the Japanese economy but there was little debate on the matter by either the ruling or opposition parties.


During the Heisei Era, politicians concentrated on political reforms to develop a two-party system that makes a government changeover possible. By reflecting on the political history of the Heisei Era, politicians need to chart a new course in politics. That is what the first national election in the Reiwa Era revealed. Thirty years ago, we lived in an era when the Cold War structure between the U.S. and the Soviet was collapsing. Now politics and economy are being swamped by a big wave of globalization and digitization and the 20th-century model of the nation has been greatly shaken. 


The LDP led by President Shinzo Abe who advocates constitutional amendment won three Lower House elections and three Upper House elections. In debating constitutional amendment, politicians need to seek a new model of the nation suitable for the era of globalization and digitization in the 21st century. Both ruling and oppositions parties need to squarely tackle constitutional amendment at the Commission on the Constitution in each chamber of the Diet.


In order to chart a new course for politics in the Reiwa Era, the ruling parties need the flexibility to accept what opposition parties have to say. Many young people support the LDP because they regard the party as reformist. If those young supporters believe the LDP is turning away from reform, the party will quickly lose their support.


In the first year of Heisei (1989), the voter turnout for the Upper House election marked 65%. However, it dropped to the 40% range in the election this time. The ruling parties must sincerely address the wishes of voters who did not cast ballots.


Opposition parties also need to present reform policies suitable for the era of globalization and digitization so that both ruling and opposition parties compete in the speed and depth of reforms under their policies. There is not much time left. That is the important mission of politics.

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