TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Challenges have piled up both in domestic politics and foreign affairs. Measures to resolve the issues must be drawn up and steadily implemented.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has entered his eighth year in office since he returned to power. His total tenure as prime minister is the longest in the history of Japan's constitutional politics.
Mr Abe has stabilised the economy and raised the consumption tax rate twice.
He led the way on enacting security-related laws and reinforcing the Japan-US alliance. Such achievements may have brought about this longest-serving administration.
Mr Abe's term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) expires in September 2021.
He should produce policy results without relaxing his efforts, keeping his eyes on wrapping up his administration.
It is the existence of healthy opposition parties that gives the government a proper sense of tension.
The recent deterioration of Diet deliberations is intolerable.
Opposition parties have been obsessed with grilling the government about its scandals, while the prime minister and Cabinet members have been focused entirely on giving canned answers.
The Diet must return to the original stance of the legislature, which is to develop policy discussions.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People, which emerged from the defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), intend to advance talks toward a merger.
The parties are apparently aiming to confront Mr Abe's predominance by getting out of the situation in which opposition parties are many in number but weak.
However, the two parties remain far apart on such issues as nuclear power measures.
The DPJ-led administration, which became mired in poor administrative management, is still remembered clearly.
Another reason for its failure was the lack of unity as the DPJ was a party of politicians with different beliefs. If the unification of the opposition parties is regarded as a revival of the DPJ, public support is unlikely to grow.
First of all, the opposition parties should make efforts to put themselves in a position of becoming suitable for taking the reins of government and steadily refine counter-proposals for key policy measures.
In Japan, the effects of the ageing population and low birthrate are progressing rapidly.
The conventional system in which the working generation supports the elderly will soon be deadlocked.
Members of the younger generations harbour concerns about whether they can receive sufficient social security in their old age.
There have also been strong calls for improving the environment for child-rearing.
It is the responsibility of politicians to listen to the voices of the people and create a society in which everyone can live with peace of mind.
In the House of Councillors election last summer, many opposition parties were against raising the consumption tax rate to 10 per cent even as they proposed measures that require a large amount of funds, such as improving welfare programs.
This is not convincing.
To enhance the sustainability of the social security system, reforms involving curbing the provision of benefits and increasing the people's financial burdens will be inevitable.
It will also become necessary to discuss raising the consumption tax rate to more than 10 per cent.
The opposition parties should present solutions by squarely facing this harsh reality.
Difficult situations will continue on the diplomatic front, too.
US President Donald Trump trumpets a US-first policy stance and calls for other countries to make concessions. Japan is no exception in facing such demands.
Negotiations over expenses for stationing US forces in Japan will get into full swing in the months to come.
Mr Trump has been calling for Japan to shoulder an increased financial burden.
The government needs to explain in detail that Japan already bears a bigger burden than other countries that also host US forces.
In the Japan-US trade agreement, Japan has lowered tariffs on US products to levels that are within the ranges set under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
Tokyo has ensured consistency with the TPP while giving consideration to relations with Washington.
The opposition parties have criticised the Japan-US trade pact, saying that Japan made concessions unilaterally. How then would they deal with the Trump administration?
They should present their own countermeasures without only criticising the government.
In a milestone for Japan-China relations, Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Japan is scheduled for this spring.
Chinese government vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
China's high-handed stance toward Hong Kong cannot be overlooked. Tokyo should convey its concerns and urge Beijing to exercise self-restraint.
Mr Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have agreed to continue dialogue on the issue of former wartime requisitioned workers - what the government calls the issue of former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula - but there is no prospect in sight of solving the issue.
South Korea's court decisions ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation to the former requisitioned workers run counter to the agreement reached between the two countries.
Momentum for improving the bilateral relationship will be created if Seoul moves to end its violation of international law.
Mr Abe aims to achieve constitutional revision while prime minister.
Due to resistance by some opposition parties concerned about the Constitution being revised under the initiative of Mr Abe, deliberations on constitutional revision have stagnated. This is regrettable.
The Constitution is the nation's top law. It stipulates, among other things, the people's rights and duties as well as the governing mechanism.
The Constitution is something that cannot be neglected when considering the future course to be taken by the nation.
In the upcoming ordinary session of the Diet, it is essential for commissions on the Constitution in both chambers hold sessions swiftly and launch discussions on the Constitution itself.
The LDP is compiling proposals on four items, including an amendment to Article 9 to add legal grounds for the Self-Defence Forces.
It is necessary for political parties to hold in-depth deliberations by bringing together their views on the matter.
Broadening the people's understanding of revisions is important, too. The LDP has held lecture meetings on constitutional revision in various places around the country.
The ruling party is called on to continue this initiative energetically.
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