The government is called on to achieve results by squarely facing difficult challenges both at home and abroad, supported by a stable political foundation — this desire of the public can be said to have been displayed in the House of Councillors election.
In the 25th upper house poll, the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito secured a majority of seats in the 245-member upper chamber, including the seats it holds that were not contested this time. The ruling coalition also won a majority of the 124 seats up for grabs in this election.
The LDP has won a majority of the key 32 constituencies in which one seat is up for grabs. The LDP fared well even in the constituencies in which two or more seats were contested, winning two seats in Hokkaido and other prefectural constituencies. Seven candidates fielded by Komeito in multiseat constituencies were all elected.
Public mandate won
Even if the national economy has yet to completely emerge from deflation, business is showing a mild recovery while corporate achievements and employment are robust. Through his active summit diplomacy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has bolstered the Japan-U.S. alliance and turned relations with China for the better. Voters have likely rated highly the achievements made by the Abe Cabinet over the 6½ years of its administration.
In an NHK program televised after almost all the election results were known, Abe said that his government “wants to live up to the people’s expectations steadfastly.”
The prime minister was able to maintain a cohesive force for running his administration. His term as LDP president — a post guaranteeing the prime ministership — will last until September 2021. Abe cannot idle away the rest of his term.
He is called on to meticulously craft strategies for difficult political challenges and implement them in order of priority.
The election victory by the ruling coalition means that the government’s plan to raise the consumption tax rate to 10 percent in October has been endorsed by the people. All possible measures must be studied to prevent consumption from falling in the aftermath of a tax hike. It is necessary to make thoroughly known the reduced tax rate and the reward points system that will be introduced when the tax is raised to 10 percent, thereby preventing turmoil from developing.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three other opposition parties fielded joint candidates in 32 single-seat constituencies to compete with the LDP, but the effect of the joint struggle was limited. They failed to dispel criticism that the coalition of the four opposition parties — including the Japanese Communist Party, whose policies on security and other fundamental issues differ greatly from those of the three other opposition parties — is a “coalition of convenience.”
Two political parties derived from the now defunct Democratic Party of Japan differed in their election outcomes. The CDPJ increased their seats in proportional representation blocs, while the Democratic Party for the People did not fare well. The opposition forces may become increasingly fluid.
It is regrettable that the voter turnout in constituencies is estimated to fall below 50 percent. It is imperative to exercise wisdom to work toward improving the voter turnout.
It is probably true that the showdown between the goliath coalition of ruling parties and “many weak” opposition parties ended up being somewhat dull. Yet the value of casting a vote is significant when the challenges that Japan faces are considered.
The issue that is most important not to put off is reform of the social security system.
Population decline and the aging of society are advancing rapidly. As long as policies are carried out as an extension of conventional ones, they will, sooner or later, reach a deadlock.
Taking a hard look at what will unfold in the 2040s, when the nation’s elderly population is expected to reach its peak, it is necessary to consider examining the medical, nursing care and pension systems. To enhance the sustainability of the social security system, it is unavoidable to revise the system: to hold the amount of benefits in check and to increase the burden. It will also be necessary to consider yet another increase in the consumption tax rate.
Although Abe said there would be no need for the consumption tax rate to be raised to more than 10 percent in the next 10 years, the issue should not be sealed off even up to discussing the matter.
The integrated social security and tax reform package adopted in 2012 — in which a phased increase in the consumption tax rate was decided — came into being thanks to the cooperation that the then opposition parties of both the LDP and Komeito extended to the DPJ-led administration. Social security system reform should not be turned into a political football. Both the ruling and opposition parties are urged to start discussing the issue as one for the whole country, going across party lines.
It is also urgent to reinvigorate Diet debate on constitutional revisions. The CDPJ stipulated in its campaign promises that it would advance constitutional debates, while the DPFP said it would discuss a future-oriented constitution. These statements should not end up as mere words.
There is a high hurdle to constitutional revisions: Amendments must be supported by a majority of the public in a national referendum, after they are initiated through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more each of the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. It is desirable for as many political parties as possible to agree on amending the top law and drawing up amendments.
Revitalize top law talks
The LDP, for its part, must adopt a stance of also listening to what the opposition parties say concerning revision and conducting relevant discussions with care.
With the upper house election system amended, the LDP made use of the special quota introduced in the proportional representation segment. The special quota was aimed at rescuing lawmakers who were unable to run as candidates in merged constituencies. It is problematic that the system concerning the proportional representation segment of elections has become more complicated through this makeshift reform.
How will they consider the upper house’s roles of checking and supplementing the lower house and construct an election system for both houses of the Diet? Without precluding the option of constitutional amendments, the ruling and opposition parties should expedite their debates.
It should not be forgotten that there was a period when indecisive politics continued, as those in the majority of one house were a minority in the other. The parties must also tackle the issue of rectifying the balance between the lower house and the “excessively strong upper house,” by implementing such reforms as lowering the requirement for the lower house to override the upper house’s rejection of a bill passed earlier by the lower house, from the present two-thirds majority vote to a simple majority vote in the lower house.