The Upper House election will be a test of the economic strategies being pursued by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition government — or so says his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Although Japan faces problems ranging from social welfare to history disputes and national security, the LDP’s public relations machine is trying to keep the message focused on the economy.
” ‘Abenomics’ is lifting investor and public sentiment.”
“It’s pulling Japan out of its decades-long economic slump!”
The strategy seems to be working, if the LDP’s landslide victory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election last month is any sign. A recent opinion poll by the daily Asahi Shimbun said more than 60 percent of the public supports Abenomics, Abe’s bold economic program.
“The ‘three arrows’ of aggressive monetary easing, heavy fiscal spending and growth centered on structural reform and tax breaks, have cleared away the nation’s dark economic sentiment,” Abe is quoted as saying in his LDP’s campaign brochures, despite the turmoil in the stock market.
To avoid criticism that Abe isn’t promoting strategies that will foster sustainable growth, especially deregulation, the party has promised to lower the corporate tax rate, one of the highest in the world, but stopped short of detailing when or by how much.
While Abenomics has overwhelming support in media polls, the opposition parties are pointing out that the program hasn’t led to any tangible benefits — particularly wage hikes. Sustainable growth won’t occur while the government is stoking inflation unless wages keep pace.
At present, prices are going up, but this is because of the drop in the yen’s value, which makes purchases even of daily staples more expensive.
In a public “debate” in Osaka Saturday that brought together the secretaries-general of nine political parties, only the LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, stated that Abenomics will improve the economy. The two apparently didn’t provide proof to back up the assertion.
Leading the push-back was the Democratic Party of Japan, which has failed to rebuild since being ousted from power in the general election in December.
The DPJ said that Abenomics is only benefitting the wealthy and export-oriented companies and ignoring the middle class. No statistics were provided.
It said the minimum wage should be raised and that Abe-led strategies that entail having firms offer severance pay just to fire workers more easily or introduce steps that prevent white-collar workers from being paid for overtime, should be opposed.
“Prices went up when wages stayed the same, hurting the livelihood of the people,” DPJ President Banri Kaeida said the same day in an interview with The Japan Times and other news organizations. “Only our expectations have been inflated.”
One issue that drew wider support across the spectrum was whether Japan should join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the U.S.-led free-trade pact that is based on the goal of scrapping all trade tariffs.
In addition to the ruling bloc, Your Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) said they would support Japan’s entry into the pact, which farmers fear will damage domestic agriculture. Japan will formally join the TPP negotiations at the end of the month.
Abe has assured the public that Japan’s national interests will be protected and vowed to reject the unconditional scrapping of tariffs in order to protect the nation’s vulnerable rice, wheat, pork, beef and sugar industries.
Marking a shift in stance, the DPJ said Japan still has the option of leaving the negotiating table if the TPP proves disadvantageous. When Yoshihiko Noda was promoting the pact as prime minister last year, his DPJ was divided on the issue.
Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party), the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, on the other hand, want Japan to withdraw from the TPP talks because they think the pact will destroy the economy — especially the highly protected farm sector.
Meanwhile, the LDP stands alone in defending nuclear power. The rest of the major parties, including ally New Komeito, have committed either to a gradual phase-out of atomic power or the immediate shutdown of all reactors in Japan. Only two of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are currently in operation.
New Komeito has vowed to pursue a zero-nuclear society “as soon as possible” and is against building new reactors. The LDP, however, has vowed to restart any reactors that pass the new safety standards drafted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
The DPJ, which was in power when the unprecedented mega-quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis struck in 2011, vowed to pursue a nuclear phase-out in the 2030s — a goal Noda set but his Cabinet failed to endorse last year.
Only the JCP has vowed to pursue the immediate abolition of atomic energy.
Once the Upper House election is over, Abe is likely to gear up for revising the Constitution. But for now, both the LDP and New Komeito are downplaying the issue to avoid any chance of blowing the election. Opinion polls show public support on this issue is low, and the positions of the two allies differ widely.
“Even though we have our own stance on this issue, the discussion over (constitutional) revision is not mature enough to make it a point of issue in this election,” New Komeito President Natsuo Yamaguchi said June 28.
During the 150-day Diet session that ended last week, the debate over constitutional revision often grew heated, especially over the proposal to water down Article 96, which states that a two-thirds majority is needed in both chambers of the Diet to launch a referendum on revising the Constitution. Abe wants to lower the voting hurdle to a simple majority to make it easier to alter the war-renouncing Article 9.
New Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist organization, is understandably wary of its partner’s ambitions. It says the strict safeguards spelled out in Article 96 are there for good reason and must be maintained. New Komeito is even advocating the attachment of additional articles aimed at protecting the environment and pursuing government decentralization.
In the opposition camp, only Your Party and Nippon Ishin share the LDP’s stance on Article 96. But Your Party decided to jettison the issue from its campaign brochure at the last minute.
“There are many important things that have to be done before a constitutional revision,” Your Party leader Yoshimi Watanabe said Sunday as the party unveiled its official agenda.
As for Nippon Ishin, which took a severe beating in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election over co-leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s provocative assertions that Japan’s “comfort women” system of sexual slavery was a necessity during the war, its campaign pledges only state that it will examine the facts regarding historical issues.
The DPJ meanwhile is opposed to amending Article 96 but is in the midst of a debate on Article 9. The other opposition parties, including the JCP and SDP, are unequivocally opposed to amending either.
“All of the other opposition forces are a carbon copy of the LDP,” JCP leader Kazuo Shii said during an interview with The Japan Times and other news outlets Saturday. “While the LDP, Your Party and Nippon Ishin are aggressively seeking constitutional amendment, the DPJ and New Komeito are also pushing for revision, even though their stance is not clear.”