In 2009, the year of the last Lower House election, the buzzword among politicians was “manifesto”— a term meant to convey their policy goals and vision if they won power.
But this year, the word is strikingly absent from general election campaigning, with many politicians apparently viewing it as a loaded term saddled with negative connotations.
The word is largely seen as being associated with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which has admitted to failing to honor pledges made during the previous election that catapulted it to power through a landslide victory.
Only the DPJ and New Komeito are using the word to present their policy visions in the 2012 election, putting them in a small minority with a dozen parties vying for Diet seats.
But it is not just the word manifesto that is taking a back seat.
Numerical goals and road maps for achieving policy objectives have also become a rarity in each party’s platforms.
What has emerged instead are vague phrases and words that are short on specifics. Critics say such changes are not helpful for voters seeking to assess the achievements of the parties.
One of the fiercest critics of the DPJ’s catchword is Shinzo Abe, the president of the Liberal Democratic Party.
“I am not using the appellation manifesto,” he declared at a news conference on Nov. 21 when his party made its election pledges public. “It is almost like a synonym for untrustworthiness.”
But the word manifesto was not the only one Abe said he would eschew when he blasted DPJ leaders in his stump speeches.
Abe also said he would not use “in the near future,” referring to the phrase Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda used back in August when promising to call an election, and “trust me,” a phrase former DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama said he used in talks with President Barack Obama in November 2009.
As prime minister, Hatoyama asked the U.S. leader to count on him to resolve the thorny issue of relocating a U.S. military base in Okinawa. Hatoyama quit as prime minister in June 2010, with his unsuccessful bid to relocate the base at least partially to blame, as well as a promise to pay allowances to families with children and trim wasteful government spending.
What then do other parties call their pledges? The LDP uses “juten seisaku” (priority policies) 2012, while the emerging Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) calls them “honebuto” (large bones) 2013-2016. Your Party has labeled its pledges its “2012 Agenda.”
The Social Democratic Party had a manifesto in the previous election but this time it has switched to “shuinsen koyaku” (public pledges for the House of Representatives election) 2012. Party leader Mizuho Fukushima said the term manifesto “is beginning to be a synonym for ‘liar.’ “
Still, Noda has indicated he will still use a manifesto to promote his policies.
At a Nov. 29 news conference, he repeatedly emphasized how difficult it was for him to achieve the goals set down in a manifesto.
“Now that I know the hardship, I will not just relinquish it,” he said.