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2013年1月 6日 (日)

転機の日本政治 試される安倍政権の統治能力

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 6, 2013)
Abe administration's ability to tackle problems faces test
転機の日本政治 試される安倍政権の統治能力(1月5日付・読売社説)


With the change of government, positive signs have emerged for the nation's prospects for this year.

Since just before the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was launched, the super-strong yen has weakened and stock prices have jumped, apparently reflecting high hopes for the Abe administration's economic measures. On Friday, the first trading day of 2013, most stocks on the Tokyo Stock Exchange climbed, recovering levels seen before the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

Can Abe restore a "strong Japan" and put an end to the nation's revolving-door politics, which has seen the prime minister change about once a year?

If the public's high hopes turn into disappointment, the Abe Cabinet is expected to face a strict verdict in the House of Councillors election scheduled for July. The prime minister must produce results swiftly.


End practice of handouts

Referring to 2013 as the Year of the Snake, Abe said at his first press conference Friday: "The snake symbolizes prosperous business. I'll work hard for the nation so we can take a big step forward toward boosting and reviving the economy."

His government plans to draw up emergency economic measures and submit a large-scale supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 to the Diet. It has also said it intends to work out bold monetary measures in cooperation with the Bank of Japan.

First of all, the government needs to put the teetering economy on a recovery track.

It reportedly aims to decide on a draft budget for next fiscal year by late this month. It must ensure smooth Diet deliberations and prevent delays in implementing the budget. We want the government and ruling parties to make every effort to pass the budget early.

Meanwhile, the Abe administration has announced in rapid succession a series of policy changes. They include dropping an income guarantee for individual farming households and a review of a program to end tuition for high schools. Both are key measures of the Democratic Party of Japan. We regard the new administration's decision to correct such handout measures as reasonable.

However, it would be problematic if the Abe administration continued handout policies in different forms. It is vital for the government to recreate a growth strategy to boost the nation's industrial competitiveness.

Taro Aso, deputy prime minister and finance minister, has indicated the new government has no intention to stick to the 44 trillion yen cap on new bond issuance set under the DPJ-led government. However, he should not forget the government needs to balance its policy measures with fiscal discipline.


Focus on electoral system reform

During the ordinary Diet session that will start late this month, the Abe administration will be tested on its ability to manage the Diet, which will continue to be divided at least until the July upper house election. The government and ruling parties should focus on passing legislation by trying to form alliances with opposition parties on a policy-by-policy basis.

One task that cannot wait is reform of the electoral system of the House of Representatives.

The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the DPJ have agreed to discuss drastic reform, including a reduction in the number of lower house seats. With regard to the current system that combines single-seat constituencies and proportional representation blocs, many problems have been pointed out, such as the huge gap between votes and seats won. These problems tend to destabilize politics.

Political parties should start to discuss as quickly as possible how to improve the current electoral system.

If they cannot discuss the issue because of partisan interests involved in the electoral system, we propose a forum be established for experts to discuss the matter.

Meanwhile, the Abe administration faces many pending issues that require coordination within the LDP, between the ruling and opposition parties or with local governments.

One of the issues is participation in negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade framework.

The LDP is divided over participation in the TPP talks due to strong opposition from agricultural organizations. With this in mind, LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba said, "We have to decide some kind of party policy [on the TPP issue] before the House of Councillors election."

However, it will be too late if the LDP does not take the issue seriously, saying only it must come up with a policy "before the upper house election." It is urgent for the LDP to coordinate opinions within the party with the aim of joining the TPP talks.

Japan will not get anywhere unless it sits down at the negotiating table with the 11 countries that will participate in the TPP. The government should exercise its negotiation ability and promote the creation of trade rules that will serve the national interests.

For economic growth, it is indispensable to restart idled nuclear reactors once they have been confirmed to be safe. The Abe administration must clear many hurdles such as persuading local governments hosting nuclear power plants.

If the ruling parties win a majority in the upper house election, an environment will be created in which they can take their time to face such issues as constitutional revisions and exercising the right to collective self-defense. At that time, the LDP's ability to coordinate opinions with Komeito will be put to the test again.


Coordination with Komeito key

In spring last year, the LDP compiled a second draft of its proposed constitutional revisions. Almost all LDP members are in step as far as exercising of the right to collective self-defense is concerned. Komeito remains cautious about both issues.

However, the security environment surrounding Japan has been drastically changing. China has intruded into not only the territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands but also the airspace above them. North Korea successfully launched a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. We must not look away from these crises.

The Constitution, which cannot deal with the ever-changing situations at home and abroad, needs to be revised. Also, it is quite right to take measures to strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The Abe administration must maintain the political power to boldly tackle constitutional revisions and exercising the right to collective self-defense.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 5, 2013)
(2013年1月5日01時46分  読売新聞)


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