By Uchihata Tsugumasa
The Lower House has been dissolved and the election campaign period started on Oct. 19. The nation will go to the polls on Oct. 31 to vote in the first general election in four years. It will also be the first election held during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the spread of the virus, Japan faces many issues, including a low birth rate and aging population, poverty and income disparity, and a worsening security environment. This election will be an important opportunity for politicians to argue the merits of their policies.
After winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidency vacated by former Prime Minister Suga Yosihide, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio dissolved the Lower House only ten days after taking up the post. Every newspaper outlet has published multiple editorials about the upcoming general election. The editorials published in the Oct. 14 and Oct. 15 editions of newspapers other than the Mainichi were used for this column. From the Mainichi, an editorial published on Oct. 10 as part of a series titled “Japan’s choice” was selected.
The Sankei Shimbun underscored that the general election this month has a special significance as “a national election held amid a true national crisis.” The paper stressed, “Following the election, the administration must implement tangible policies to overcome the crisis,” going on to say, “The timing of the election underscores the fact that Lower House elections are meant to convey the Japanese people’s choice of administration.” In the election to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic, the parties must propose ways to resume economic and social activities while keeping the virus under control. The issues of economic growth and income distribution are also important, especially at a time when the pandemic has highlighted the poverty and inequality in society.
The Sankei editorial also focused on deterrence against China and North Korea. A large number of Chinese military aircraft have intruded into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over a short period of time recently, while new types of missiles have been launched one after another by North Korea. The Sankei wrote: “It goes without saying that diplomatic efforts must be made. However, deterrence against China and North Korea, countries that rely on force, must involve boosting Japan’s defense. No political party should be given a mandate for protecting Japanese people’s lives and property if it lacks the capability to present concrete proposals for performing that task.”
The Yomiuri Shimbun remarked on the security environment as well, writing: “How North Korea’s missile launches and China’s intrusions into territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands should be dealt with must also be discussed realistically.”
Meanwhile, the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun both viewed the upcoming election as the people’s verdict on the nine-year reign of Abe Shinzo and Suga Yoshihide. Asahi wrote: “The election first and foremost needs to be about dissecting the serious damage inflicted on Japan’s democratic principles by the administrations of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, Kishida’s two predecessors, and exploring ways to restore credibility in the political system,” while Mainichi wrote that “the people’s verdict will not simply be a test of the ‘future’ of the new administration,” stressing that “in the coming election, voters will also deliver a verdict on how politics have played out over the years leading up to this political juncture.”
Asahi and Mainichi speculated that the reason Prime Minister Kishida emphasizes “thorough explanations” and “respectful and generous politics” is that the two preceding administrations have been criticized for lacking these qualities. Asahi pointed out that the birth of the Kishida administration is reminiscent of the “quasi-change of power” in which Miki Takeo, known as ‘Clean Miki,’ replaced Tanaka Kakuei, who had resigned as prime minister over a bribery scandal.
The Nikkei Shimbun, on the other hand, showed understanding for the ruling party, writing: “There is room for extenuating circumstances in the LDP’s move [to replace Suga with Kishida] in order to prepare the party for the political battle known as the general election,” explaining that it was “a logical move for a politician who is intent on survival.”
The opposition camp has tried hard to build a united front so as not to repeat the mistakes it made in the last Lower House election, when the split within the largest opposition party, the now-defunct Democratic Party, resulted in redundancies in electoral districts. The current largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), reached an agreement with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) to cooperate in fielding candidates and for the CDPJ to accept “limited, non-cabinet cooperation” from the JCP if an opposition administration takes the helm. Sankei expressed skepticism about the pact, writing: “The JCP’s eventual goal is to eliminate the emperor system, the Self-Defense Forces, and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. This is the first general election in Japan’s history in which the leading opposition aims to form administration that involves a party upholding communist ideals.”
This election will have a significant impact on the future of Japan. Each voter should be aware of this fact and listen carefully to what the candidates say.