Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Significance of Lower House Elections and the Future of Japanese Politics The LDP Should Invest its Political Capital in Sustaining Social Security
TAKENAKA Harukata / Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

December 8, 2017
The October elections for the House of Representatives ended in a landslide victory for the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), giving it a comfortable two-thirds majority of 313 seats. The opposition was battered, and the parties on the left were the worst hit, with only a few seats remaining among them in the aftermath.

There are two factors that affected the election results. First, there was voter approval for what the Abe administration had accomplished over the past five years. Second, the opposition had more or less self-destructed, and failing to put up an organized front, had fought the election in a divided state.

The Abe administration had achieved results such as strengthening Japan’s relationship with the United States and reaching an overall agreement with the European Union on the Economic Partnership Agreement. It also managed to break away from deflation and had other successes that included deregulating the electric power market, pushing through reforms on corporate governance and raising the number of foreign visitors to Japan.

As for the opposition, a closer look at the voting results for the proportional district reveals that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) and the Party of Hope had captured more votes than the LDP. The protest votes against the LDP indicate an enduring criticism of the way it runs the government, as symbolized by the Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen favoritism scandals.

Nevertheless, in many electoral districts the votes were split among the CDPJ, the Party of Hope and the Japanese Communist Party, which ultimately benefited the LDP.

It has been pointed out that the Party of Hope lost its momentum due to comments made by its leader, Yuriko Koike, of “eliminating” unwanted candidates from party membership. However, even without her blunder, it was clear that the party’s policies were hastily put together, and what with all the parachute candidates and first-time candidates, it is doubtful whether it could have won as many seats as to pose a threat to the LDP.

The Democratic Party decided to merge with the Party of Hope in a haste without holding sufficient consultations with the latter, which had not yet come up with clear policies.

On the other hand, CDPJ put up a good fight. Yet, the party clearly lacked preparation, as evidenced by its having to surrender a seat to the LDP due to its lack of candidates in the proportionate district in the Tokai regional block.

Voter turnout, at 53.68%, was the second lowest in the post-World War II period. In addition to the bad weather, it seems that a considerable number of voters couldn’t make up their minds in the wake of the virtual disintegration of the Democratic Party.

What will now happen in Japanese politics? The opposition thus divided, the Abe administration will continue to enjoy an advantage in terms of sheer numbers. However, the election results also indicated persistent criticism against the Abe administration. The Prime Minister must therefore pay utmost care to prevent a recurrence of scandals similar to the Moritomo and Kake scandals.

Prime Minister Abe is likely to advance the debate on Constitutional reform. While agreeing to a discussion, the Democratic Party had been less enthusiastic about an actual revision. Meanwhile, the Party of Hope and the Japan Innovation Party have taken a more positive stance, and this is expected to result in a more realistic discussion on the issue.

However, it is not clear whether this will lead to a revision of Article 9, as declared by Prime Minister Abe in May. That is because the CDPJ and the Communist Party are certain to vehemently oppose such a move, while the Komeito and the Party of Hope have taken a more cautious approach.

In the meantime, the Abe administration is likely to formulate concrete measures for realizing its campaign pledge of developing a social security system that addresses the needs of all generations, including free preschool education. Social security in Japan is biased towards the elderly, so placing more emphasis on the working generation would be a move in the right direction. Yet, much consideration is necessary on how to finance such a policy.

Prime Minister Abe intends to use part of the increased revenues from the scheduled hike in the consumption tax rate in 2019. Considering that the budget deficit was expected to grow even after raising the tax rate, the government will have to rely on debts to cover any new expenditures.

Revising the Constitution is certainly an important issue. But since the security-related bills were passed in 2015, there is now less need for a revision from the standpoint of national security, and it is questionable whether the issue is a matter of urgency.

Constitutional amendment would require considerable political capital. Investing the same amount of political capital would probably allow the government to reform the social security system, achieve fiscal soundness and implement various deregulatory measures. Why not invest political capital to ensure the sustainability of “social security for all generations,” including improving fiscal condition?

The Japanese people – including the younger generation – harbor concerns about the future of their economy and society. Prime Minister Abe should seek to resolve such concerns by using the political capital he has newly gained in the latest general elections.

Harukata Takenaka is Professor at Japan’s National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. This article was originally published in the Shinano Mainichi Shimbun newspaper on October 24, 2017.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

衆院選の意味と今後の政治 政治資本、社会保障の持続に
竹中治堅 / 政策研究大学院大学教授

2017年 12月 8日

















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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Significance of Lower House Elections and the Future of Japanese Politics The LDP Should Invest its Political Capital in Sustaining Social Security