EDITORIAL NOTES

Abe must use stable political base for economic revitalisation: The Japan News

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe listens to a question during a press conference following the upper house elections at his ruling Leberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo on July 11.
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe listens to a question during a press conference following the upper house elections at his ruling Leberal Democratic Party headquarters in Tokyo on July 11.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on July 12, the paper urges the Prime Minister to see the election results as an indication that people have extended the grace period for his government to revitalise the economy.

The main task is shoring up the Abenomics economic policy, as it is halfway complete, so as to achieve the goal of ending deflation once and for all.

That seems to be what the voters wanted.

In the House of Councillors election, the 24th of its kind, the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito scored an overwhelming victory by gaining more than half of the seats contested.

The LDP's win marked its fourth consecutive victory in national elections held since the party returned to power, starting with the House of Representatives election in 2012.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to further stabilise his political base, with the aim of having his administration remain in power for an extended period.

Pertinent tasks include revitalising the still sluggish Japanese economy while restoring fiscal health, as well as building sustainable social security systems that can overcome the impact of a society whose population continues to decrease.

Another task is to formulate foreign and security policies that respond suitably to an increasingly destabilized Asian situation.

The prime minister must make steadfast progress in accomplishing these arduous tasks.

The LDP enjoyed a great victory by winning 21 of 32 constituencies in which one seat was up for grabs - a portion of the race that held the key to determining the election results.

Two LDP candidates were also elected in each of the Tokyo and Chiba prefectural constituencies in which more than one seat was contested.

Komeito also fared well in such prefectures as Aichi and Fukuoka, in which there was an increase in the number of allocated seats in the latest upper house race.

The party gained new seats in these constituencies.

After the overall results of the election became clear, the prime minister talked about his Abenomics strategy, saying, "I'll take to heart the voice of people who have urged me to forcefully advance [his economic reform package], and I want to devise comprehensive and bold economic policies."

It is important that the Abe administration adheres to the policy of placing top priority on economic management.

There is a pressing need to closely examine the substance of economic measures expected to be formulated in autumn and the financial resources needed for these measures.

Another urgent task is to expand the growth strategy for dealing with matters related to agricultural, medical and other fields.

The prime minister had put off raising the consumption tax rate to 10 percent - a measure initially planned for April 2017 - for 2½ years.

In campaigning for the election, he also declared that the greatest point of contention in the race was whether to accelerate his Abenomics policy or retreat from it.

The Abenomics package has accomplished such positive results as depreciation of the yen, higher stock prices, an improvement in the employment and wage hikes.

On the other hand, the benefit of these achievements has been small in provincial areas, and for small and midsize corporations.

However, many people made a realistic choice in the election - staying with the current course of action.

The upper house race was held amid a great deal of attention on the adoption of a minimum voting age of 18.

It cannot be overlooked that the low voter turnout worked to the advantage of the ruling parties, as they are supported by solid organizational votes in elections.

The prime minister must not arrogantly believe his Abenomics was fully supported in the election.

Rather, it is essential for him to humbly take the election results as a sign that the grace period for the attainment of his goal of revitalising the economy has been extended, and endeavour to run his government in a cautious manner.

The four opposition parties - the Democratic Party, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and the People's Life Party - which fielded unified candidates in each of the one-seat constituencies, won seats in constituencies where opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade accord was strong, such as the Iwate and Yamagata constituencies in the Tohoku region.

Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki, who ran in the Fukushima constituency, was defeated by an opposition candidate, as was Aiko Shimajiri, state minister for Okinawa affairs, who ran in the Okinawa constituency.

On a nationwide scale, however, the effect of the unified front formed by the four opposition parties can be considered limited at best.

The DP secured more seats than the 17 it won in the previous upper house election in 2013, when it was called the Democratic Party of Japan. Nevertheless, the party made a poor showing, with the number of seats it won far lower than the 45 seats at stake this time.

While dismissing Abenomics as a "failure" and advocating that it would achieve "distribution and growth together," the DP apparently failed to make its points clear among voters.

Its call for abolishing the security-related laws, which it called "unconstitutional," also failed to win wide voter support. Criticism that the DP formed a "union of convenience" with the JCP, even if the two parties differ greatly over key policies, also had a negative impact.

Concern has arisen both inside and outside the DP over its "tilt to the left." Shouldn't the party discontinue such tactics as calling for abolishing the security-related laws and start a more constructive debate with the ruling parties?

The JCP did increase the number of its seats from the three contested this time. But its views - including its contention that the Self-Defense Forces are unconstitutional, a stance that is far apart from the opinion of the general public - ultimately acted as a headwind for the party, apparently causing voters' support not to expand in the final phase of the campaign.

If the party wants to increase its forces further, it is essential for the JCP to adopt a more realistic security policy.

Initiatives from Osaka (Osaka Ishin no Kai) made its presence felt to a certain extent by increasing its seats even under the proportional representation section, in addition to having two candidates win seats in the Osaka constituency, where it is based.

The combined number of seats won by the ruling parties of the LDP and Komeito, and others who are positive toward constitutional amendment - Initiatives from Osaka, the Party for Japanese Kokoro and some independents - has exceeded the two-thirds of the seats in the upper house needed to initiate amendment procedures.

The increase in pro-constitutional amendment forces marks a step forward for revision. But it would be premature to believe there is a real possibility of the Diet initiating constitutional revisions, primarily because these parties are not necessarily in step with each other as to the specific items they believe should be subject to revision.

The LDP has placed priority on such items as establishing an emergency provision to deal with major disasters. Initiatives from Osaka calls for providing free education and setting up a constitutional court.

Following initial steps taken in the Diet, a majority of support is needed in a referendum for the Constitution to be amended. Taking this hurdle into consideration, it would be realistic to pursue revisions of items on which a broad-based accord is possible, including one from the DP, the largest opposition party.

It is important to first deepen discussion in a level-headed manner to narrow down specific subjects for amendment at commissions on the Constitution in both chambers of the Diet.


The Japan News is a member of the The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.