LDP back in the saddle again

The Liberal Democratic Party, which was badly defeated in the Lower House election in August 2009 and had to give up power to the Democratic Party of Japan after ruling the nation almost without interruption since 1955, made a comeback in Sunday’s general election. Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the current LDP chief, will regain the premiership. A Kyodo News exit poll showed that the LDP and its ally Komeito may gain two-thirds of the Lower House seats — enough seats to overturn decisions by the Upper House.

Rather than showing strong support for the LDP, the election results should be interpreted as reflecting voters’ strong disappointment with the DPJ, which failed to implement many of its election promises for the 2009 election.

It is very likely that voters felt that, amid the current economic and political doldrums, it would be safer to give governing power back to the party that has had long experience in running the nation. But there is no guarantee that, given the LDP’s policy proposals, people’s lives will improve or that the international environment surrounding Japan will become stable.

The DPJ promised to take the initiative in policy development from the hands of bureaucrats to break the traditional triangular network of politicians, bureaucrats and industry — the basis of not only LDP politics but also corruption. But the DPJ was unable to achieve anything meaningful in this area. Gradually bureaucrats came to regain their’ grip over the DPJ government.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s obsession with raising the consumption tax rate, which was not included in the DPJ’s 2009 election manifesto, showed that he was completely under the control of Finance Ministry bureaucrats. During the DPJ administration, workers’ wages did not go up and irregular workers came to account for more than one-third of the nation’s workforce. In Sunday’s election, the DPJ’s numbers in the Lower House decreased to a record low.

In addition, the diplomatic row between Japan and China over ownership of the Senkaku Islands must have made some people feel that Japan is weak-kneed.

These factors apparently led voters to support the LDP as well as the Japan Restoration Party, which calls for drastically changing Japan’s governing system through a constitutional revision. The latter secured seats on a par with the DPJ in Sunday’s election.

The irony is that the LDP is the party that, along with Komeito, tied up with the DPJ to enact the bill that will double the consumption tax rate to 10 percent from October 2015, despite the risk that doing so will wreck the Japanese economy, which is suffering from longtime deflation, and thus lead to an overall fall in tax revenues.

Another irony is that the Japan Restoration Party’s economic policy is based on neoliberal market fundamentalism. For example, it calls for abolishing the minimum wage system.

The LDP administration of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pushed similar neoliberal economic policies. Under the Koizumi administration, people’s lives did not improve and poverty became a real issue.

Both the LDP and the Japan Restoration Party are known for their hawkish attitude on constitutional issues. They call for revising the Constitution, including revision of the war-renouncing Article 9, and for exercising the right to collective self-defense.

The government’s traditional interpretation is that the Constitution prohibits Japan from exercising that right. If the right to collective self-defense is allowed to be exercised, Japan would be legally able to take military action to defend a nation with close ties with Japan if that nation is militarily attacked by a third party.

Attention must be paid to the fact that while a constitutional revision requires the support of two-thirds of the Diet members to initiate a national referendum on such a revision, changing the government’s interpretation of the Constitution related to the right to collective self-defense does not require such a procedure.

The LDP and other parties calling for the exercise of that right can enact a bill that will change the government’s traditional interpretation. Exercising the right to collective self-defense could open the way for putting Japanese nationals in harm’s way by involving Japan in military conflict not directly affecting it. This would violate Japan’s defense-only defense policy. Such a bill would completely gut the no-war principle of the Constitution.

The LDP calls for revising Article 9 to create a National Defense Force. Its draft revision states that the proposed NDF, under a specific law, can take part in international cooperative activities to help maintain peace and security in the international community — a concept that can be used to justify Japan’s participation in virtually any type of military mission abroad.

Even without revising the Constitution, the LDP may try to enact a bill to expand the Self-Defense Forces’ activities overseas. Given Japan’s military aggression in the Asia-Pacific region in the 1930s and ’40s, the LDP’s posture would arouse suspicions about Japan’s true intentions among neighboring and other countries, thus destroying the international community’s trust in Japan. It could also lead to a fierce arms race and destabilization of relations in East Asia, endangering Japan’s security.

Although the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe highlighted the inherent danger of operating nuclear power plants in this quake-prone country, Mr. Abe opposes the elimination of nuclear power. He says nuclear power plants whose operations are judged safe should be brought back online. But he seems to forget the fact that nuclear waste storage facilities at such plants are almost full and that no technology exists at present that can ensure the safe, essentially permanent storage of high-level radioactive waste.

Mr. Abe’s call for unlimited monetary easing by the Bank of Japan and for BOJ’s purchase of all construction bonds runs the risk of causing inflation without increasing meaningful investment, job opportunities and wage levels. People should keep a strict watch on the new administration’s behavior.