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2013年7月 1日 (月)

参院選へ 「ねじれ」に終止符打てるか

The Yomiuri Shimbun June 30, 2013
Can Abe put an end to divided Diet in coming upper house poll?
参院選へ 「ねじれ」に終止符打てるか(6月29日付・読売社説)


How will voters judge the performance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration over the past six months?

The government has formally decided to hold a House of Councillors election on July 21, with official campaigning to start Thursday.

The number of constituencies in which one upper house seat is up for grabs has increased by two to 31 following the implementation of a measure to narrow vote-value disparities. The results of the battles in these constituencies are likely to determine the outcome of the whole election. The upcoming poll will also be closely watched as the nation’s first national election in which the use of the Internet will be allowed for campaigns.

Abe to face a test

The key focus of the election is expected to be whether the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito will be able to secure a majority of seats in the upper house and thus put an end to the current divided Diet.

If the ruling camp achieves this goal, the Abe administration will be on firmer footing, making the nation’s politics more stable. After the July upper house race, a national election will not be held for as long as three years. This would help create an environment in which the Abe administration can tackle issues thoroughly without worrying about elections.

Abe was in office when the Diet became divided after his LDP lost in the upper house election held six years ago. Abe said the divided Diet has thrown politics into confusion, significantly weakening Japan’s national power. “We must put an end to the divided Diet,” he said.

In the meantime, the ruling and opposition parties have repeatedly confronted each other. In light of this, deliberations on bills were often stalled, particularly in the upper house, including when the LDP itself was an opposition party.

On Wednesday, the closing day of the ordinary Diet session, the opposition-controlled upper house passed a censure motion against the prime minister. Four key government-sponsored bills, including one to revise the Electricity Business Law, were scrapped as a result. This is a prime example.

The nature and purpose of the upper house should be also addressed in the upcoming election, as the chamber has turned into a stage for political maneuvering.

For the Democratic Party of Japan, the election is likely to be a battle in which its very existence is at stake. The DPJ is likely to face a test of voter sentiment on efforts by President Banri Kaieda and its other leaders to rebuild the party, as well as on its handling of Diet affairs as the largest opposition party.

Opposition comeback?

The House of Representatives election last December boosted the presence of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) in the Diet, but the party has since lost strength for reasons such as the controversial remarks on so-called comfort women by its coleader Toru Hashimoto. In the July election, Hashimoto and fellow coleader Shintaro Ishihara will be tested on their ability to solidify its position in the upper house.

Meanwhile, both Your Party and the Japanese Communist Party significantly increased their seats in the recent Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election. They now aim to expand their public support in a national election.

The parties likely will clash over Abenomics, a set of economic measures promoted by the Abe administration.

To get the national economy out of deflation and achieve growth, Abe has emphasized that there is no alternative to carrying out his so-called three-arrow policy package of drastic monetary easing, flexible fiscal measures and a growth strategy.

However, as Abe has acknowledged, the people have yet to feel an economic recovery. So to win public understanding it is necessary to explain to them in detail about the aims and effects of the economic revitalization to be brought on by the full implementation of Abenomics.

The DPJ, on the other hand, has criticized the government’s economic measures, saying they have caused “strong side effects” such as price hikes amid no raise in wages and an increase in housing loan interest rates.

How would the DPJ reconstruct the economy, then? Its argument will lack persuasive power unless it presents concrete measures. The party said it would “take good care of workers, boost income and enrich and expand the middle class.” But such abstract imagery falls short of explanations.

In its campaign platform, the DPJ points to hikes in electricity and gas rates as “a rash of price increases” under the Abe administration. But these were largely caused by a sharp increase in fuel imports for the operation of thermal power plants that substituted for the nation’s nuclear power plants, most of which had their operations suspended under the DPJ-led administration.

The DPJ’s criticism of price hikes must be questioned in terms of its consistency with its policy to end reliance on nuclear power generation.

Worth watching in the upcoming upper house election will be whether the LDP, Nippon Ishin no Kai and Your Party, which show a keen interest in revising the Constitution, will be able to secure two-thirds or more of the seats. If this threshold is cleared, it will create a political environment in which initiating constitutional revision will be possible for the first time under the current national charter.

Debate in concrete terms

Concerning Article 96, which sets out procedures for constitutional amendments, the LDP, Ishin no Kai and Your Party call for easing the requirements to initiate such revisions. The DPJ, Komeito and People’s Life Party either wish to maintain the article or oppose its revision ahead of other articles.

Issues regarding the the Constitution are wide-ranging.

In its draft for constitutional revision, the LDP proposes revising Article 9 to call for the establishment of a national defense force while retaining the article’s spirit of pacifism, and to oblige the state to secure Japan’s territorial integrity.

Among constitutional provisions, the current Article 9 is the most distant from reality. The existence of the Self-Defense Forces should be clarified. Komeito, which aims to add new provisions to the current Constitution, has said it will study how to recognize the SDF in the national charter. This is a laudable move.

Ishin no Kai calls for merging the two chambers of the Diet into one and adopting a system to elect a prime minister by popular vote. Your Party proposes a provision on states of emergency. The JCP and Social Democratic Party stress their stance of maintaining the Constitution as it is.

This is the first time that concrete points of constitutional revision will become bones of contention in an upper house poll. Discussing the national charter is tantamount to thinking about the national security environment, the system of government and the status of human rights.

The parties will be asked to deepen debate on the matter during a campaign period.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 29, 2013)
(2013年6月29日01時28分  読売新聞)


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