The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) secured a majority of seats in the Lower House in the Oct. 31 election. Together with its coalition partner Komeito, the LDP won an absolute stable majority, giving the government of Kishida Fumio a mandate from the people.
However, the LDP won fewer seats than it held at the time of the dissolution of the Diet. LDP Secretary-General Amari Akira, a central figure in the ruling government, lost the race for his home constituency seat. Though he managed to stay in parliament by earning a seat through the proportional representation vote, he has informed PM Kishida of his intent to resign as LDP secretary-general.
PM Kishida and the LDP must take the results of the polls sincerely and continue to hold thorough discussions at the Diet [on relevant issues]. At the same time, they should waste no time in setting out policies. With an Upper House election coming up next summer, the government must work hard to implement the campaign pledges it has made to the public.
Fully brace for the next wave of COVID-19
Devising effective measures against COVID-19 is a pressing task for the government. The total number of cases nationwide has hovered at a lower level recently, but what will happen in the future remains unknown.
Public criticism of the government’s handling of COVID-19 is one reason the LDP lost seats. Many people and businesses struggled financially due to the pandemic. At one point during the fifth wave, about 135,000 COVID patients needed to be hospitalized but instead were forced to recuperate at home.
The Kishida government plans to increase the number of hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients to at least 20% more than that during the peak of the fifth wave. This must be carried out at all costs. Meanwhile, preparations are underway to roll out COVID booster shots. The government must make an all-out effort in the procurement and administration of vaccines. It also needs to accelerate efforts to approve and supply oral COVID-19 medications.
Japan should also enable stronger measures, such as lockdowns, to fight infectious diseases. PM Kishida takes a cautious stance, and he should give the idea another thought.
On the economic front, stimulating growth halted by the pandemic is the top priority. The government must take every possible step to extend financial support to households and businesses in need. To begin with, it must step up efforts to give its economic stimulus package concrete shape.
With people starting to go out and spend more, merely focusing on the scale of measures will not prove effective. The government should take into consideration the effectiveness and urgency of policies so that private demand recovers in a self-sustaining fashion.
How to give concrete shape to PM Kishida’s “new capitalism,” which aims to increase the middle class through the facilitation of growth and distribution is a key question. While the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and other opposition parties argued throughout the campaign period that Abenomics failed to produce results, the LDP retained this economic program and said it would emphasize the redistribution of income to make sure the benefits of growth do not concentrate on big-name corporations and the well-to-do.
Increasing wages across industries is a prerequisite to redress income disparities. This is a daunting task that the preceding governments led by Abe Shinzo and Suga Yoshihide failed to address. The Kishida government should show a clear path that helps companies increase wages continuously rather than relying on temporary pork-barrel spending.
Foreign and security policies were not major campaign issues, which is a far cry from four years ago, when North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs were taken up as issues that present a national crisis.
On the day the Lower House election was announced, North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that landed in the Sea of Japan. During the campaign, ten Chinese and Russian warships travelled around Japan as part of a joint drill. The fleets conducted helicopter landings and takeoffs in waters near the Izu Islands. Air Self-Defense Force airplanes were scrambled in response. This is overt intimidation to Japan.
Kishida should visit the U.S. for a bilateral summit at an early date
The security environment surrounding Japan is growing increasingly tense. During the election campaign, the ruling and opposition camps should have spent more time discussing how Japan should respond to the cross-strait crisis and North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals as well as its nuclear and missile development programs.
The CDPJ and the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) campaigned for abolishing “unconstitutional parts” in the security legislation. This would close the door to allowing the limited exercise of the right to collective self-defense and render the Japan-U.S. alliance unable to function. During the campaign, PM Kishida and the ruling parties should have pointed out risks associated with this policy and the tense international situation in a concrete fashion and stressed the need to strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities and deterrence against China. The lack of efforts in this area is another factor behind the LDP’s loss of seats.
Japan will not be able to ensure peace unless the government bolsters defense capabilities, promotes economic security, and builds stronger deterrence against China. The Kishida government needs to provide the public with a clear-cut explanation and get the Komeito onboard. On the evening of Oct. 31, PM Kishida said he would visit the U.S. for summit talks with President Biden at an early date. The two leaders should discuss strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance and China policies, including the Taiwan issue.
Meanwhile, the CDPJ, which joined hands with the JCP and other opposition parties, failed to produce the hoped-for results. The CDPJ should realize that its “non-cabinet” cooperation strategy with the JCP resulted in closing the door to a change of power as the two parties basically take a different policy approach. Nippon Ishin no Kai [Japan Innovation Party] broadened support by attracting the anti-ruling camp vote. It is expected to play a role in leading discussions on constitutional revision and promoting realistic security policies going forward.