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2014年4月29日 (火)

鹿児島2区補選 安倍政権の政策遂行に追い風

The Yomiuri Shimbun 6:56 pm, April 28, 2014
LDP victory in Kagoshima by-election seen serving as a spur for Abe Cabinet
鹿児島2区補選 安倍政権の政策遂行に追い風

That public expectations are still considerably high for the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been verified afresh. And yet the government, as a matter of course, should not become complacent with the current situation, continuing instead to forge ahead with resolving a pile of pending issues.

In the closely watched House of Representatives by-election on Sunday in the Kagoshima Constituency No. 2, Masuo Kaneko, who was officially endorsed by the Liberal Democratic Party and supported by its coalition partner New Komeito, defeated Akashi Uchikoshi, an independent jointly backed by four opposition parties, and four other candidates.

The by-election was to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Takeshi Tokuda as a lower house member, who had seceded from the LDP in connection with the violation of the Public Offices Election Law by major hospital chain Tokushukai in his 2012 election campaign.

Given the race was the first national-level election since the consumption tax rate was hiked to 8 percent on April 1, it attracted a lot of attention on what verdict voters would hand down.

What can be cited as the major reason for Kaneko’s triumph in the Kagoshima race, a contest deemed a “midterm election” with public confidence in the Abe administration at stake, was the all-out battle waged by the LDP, which sent Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba and other top party leaders to the electoral district to stump for the party candidate.

In his campaign speech in support of Kaneko, Abe stressed positive effects of his package of economic policies dubbed Abenomics. In reference to reasons for the consumption tax hike, Abe declared it was a matter of urgency to “enhance the quality of government child-rearing support by dealing effectively with growing costs of social welfare programs.”

Thanks to the surges in voter expectations for the Abe Cabinet’s economic policies, it seems that the problem of “money and politics,” the cause of the by-election taking place in the wake of Tokushukai’s money scandal involving the election campaign for Tokuda, had no major impact on the Kagoshima contest.

Opposition in disarray

Considering that the Kagoshima Constituency No. 2 is in an area where the farming industry holds sway, it was fortunate for Kaneko that the Japan-U.S. talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade framework that were held at the same time as the by-election campaign failed to come up with details about how to handle tariff rates, particularly on the highly sensitive “five important categories” of agricultural products.

Regarding the election outcome, the government and the ruling coalition parties appear to believe that Abenomics and the higher consumption tax have successfully obtained at least a degree of public understanding.

Sufficient caution is a must, however, over possible adverse impacts of the tax hike on business conditions. The Abe administration in this respect should redouble efforts for early implementation of the national budget to realize its growth strategy with the aim of reinvigorating the private sector.

Meanwhile, the attempt led by the Democratic Party of Japan to form a united front against the ruling camp was unsuccessful.

In the Kagoshima race, Uchikoshi was jointly backed by the DPJ, Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), Yui no To and People’s Life Party. What the four parties aimed at—an attempt to rally opposition forces by criticizing the LDP’s “money power politics”—is understandable.

The cause of their failure to have their message spread among voters, however, may be that the content of the opposition parties’ argument remained ambiguous.

Regarding the issue of reinterpreting the Constitution to allow the exercise of the country’s right to collective self-defense for which the prime minister has taken the initiative, the DPJ has opposed changing the constitutional interpretation, while Ishin no Kai is set to approve the reinterpretation.

Pros and cons of reactivating Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant did not become an electoral issue in the Kagoshima race.

Although DPJ head Banri Kaieda rallied for voter support for the party’s view characterizing the by-election as an “election for putting the brakes on the Abe administration,” his argument, too, was short of specifics.

With unified local elections scheduled for next spring, the opposition parties will have to address the challenge of how to present a united front against the ruling camp.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 28, 2014)


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