Newly minted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida launched his tenure by announcing Japan would be heading to the polls for a general election on Oct. 31, sparking furious campaign preparations in the ruling and opposition parties.
Indeed, it’s desirable to go to the people quickly after a change of prime minister. However, dissolving the House of Representatives hastily without even going through the question and answer process in the Diet budget committees forces us to conclude that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is putting its political interests first. It is perfectly natural for the opposition parties to criticize that the ruling coalition is diving into the general election “before budget committee debate can expose the defects of the prime minister and his Cabinet.”
The lower house is set to be dissolved on Oct. 14, after Prime Minister Kishida gives his first general policy speech to the Diet and goes through questioning by each party leader. That leaves 17 days until election day, the shortest for any election of the postwar era. Meanwhile, voting this time around will, for the first time under the present Constitution, happen after lower house lawmakers’ terms in office expire, which they will do on Oct. 21.
Regarding the extraordinary timing of the election, Kishida stated, “We have to shorten the lower house’s vacant period by as much as possible.” However, he was already well aware that the lawmakers’ terms were soon coming to an end.
What has forced voting day beyond the term of the sitting lower chamber, a development which has been labeled an affront to the spirit of the Constitution by some observers, was the circumstances around the LDP’s leadership contest. If the LDP had moved up its party presidential election, it could have secured time enough for proper debate in the Diet.
The election timetable needed to be rushed, the LDP would have us believe, because the draft supplementary budget compilation is in urgent need. Even if that were the case, then the budget draft ought to have been compiled during the tenure of Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga and then debated in the Diet.
One prime focus of the upcoming election will be how the voters evaluate Japan’s many years under the administrations of prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Suga. Whether Kishida will shift away from the policy path of the Abe-Suga era will also be up for debate. However, Kishida’s coming policy speech and the subsequent leaders’ debate will be a thin gruel for voters looking for something substantive to decide how to cast their ballots.
One legacy of the Abe and Suga administrations is their contemptuous attitude to Diet deliberations, and treating the legislature as a mere rubber stamp body for the Cabinet. Former Prime Minister Abe, without any real moral purpose and always for his own convenience, dissolved the lower house for snap elections to get himself through political rough patches. Suga, too, did not bother to convene the usual autumn extraordinary Diet session until the current one when it was time to pick a new prime minister.
So will Kishida, who presents himself as a good listener, turn a deaf ear to the questions and suggestions of the opposition? This will also become a central issue of the coming election.