Liberal Democratic Party leader Mr. Shinzo Abe on Wednesday formed his Cabinet after the Diet nominated him as Japan’s new prime minister. This is his second tenure as prime minister, with the LDP returning to power after an absence of three years and three months.
In the Dec. 16 Lower House election, the LDP and its ally Komeito secured more than two-thirds of the seats in the Diet chamber, theoretically making it possible for the coalition to overturn decisions by the Upper House on legislative bills.
But in running the government, the new LDP-Komeito government should humbly listen to the opinions of other parties as well as those of the general public. The LDP’s overwhelming victory was due not to voters’ positive support for the party but rather to their desire to punish the Democratic Party of Japan, which failed to carry out many of its election promises after it took power in the August 2009 Lower House election.
Voter turnout in the latest Lower House election hit a record low, indicating that many people have lost trust in politics, or feel that no party will improve their lives. Mr. Abe has a great responsibility to prove to the public that politics is not for enhancing the interests of politicians but for improving the people’s well-being.
Mr. Abe leads Japan at a time when the nation is facing difficulties economically, socially and diplomatically. It is imperative that he try in earnest to improve the economy and strengthen the social welfare system so people can lead more secure and meaningful lives, and to improve the diplomatic environment surrounding Japan, especially in East Asia. He should realize that a large part of the difficulties Japan is now experiencing is attributable to policies adopted by the LDP administrations in the past, including its promotion of nuclear power generation.
The catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should be regarded as culmination of decades of LDP-led government policy that increased Japan’s reliance on nuclear power generation without adequately focusing on safety.
As a conservative, Mr. Abe should be aware of the fact that the market-fundamentalist policies pushed by the LDP administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had the effect of tearing up communities, community-based businesses and the human bonds people share through their membership in various groups and organizations. Symbolic of that is the increase in the percentage of irregular workers to more than one-third of the nation’s labor force. They are largely living economically and socially unstable lives, unable to establish secure ties with their employers, who essentially view them as disposable. A society in which so many people lack secure human bonds is a shaky one. Mr. Abe should pursue policies that will bring such people economic and social stability.
One of the first main jobs for the Abe administration will be to draw up a supplementary budget for fiscal 2012 to help buoy the economy. The LDP calls for extra spending of ¥10 trillion through the budget. It also calls for spending ¥200 trillion for public works projects over 10 years in the name of making Japan resilient to natural disasters, including the massive quakes and tsunamis that are expected to hit the nation in the future.
The supplementary budget and the LDP’s policy carry the danger of piling up pork-barrel public works projects. In the short term, they may stimulate the economy but will not contribute to turning Japan into a strong economy. Bond issuance for the supplementary budget will also worsen the nation’s fiscal health. The new government should prioritize public works projects and cut waste by approving only those that are truly necessary.
Mr. Abe calls for the Bank of Japan to buy all construction bonds issued by the government and to carry out unlimited monetary easing. But this policy could destroy the trust in the nation’s central bank and the government, thus lowering government bond prices and increasing long-term interest rates. It could also cause inflation not accompanied by increases in wages and employment opportunities. The big problem is that even if the economy is flooded with money, there are not many opportunities that will induce enterprises to increase capital investment. Monetary policy alone will not revive the Japanese economy.
Mr. Abe’s administration should develop concrete policies to encourage agriculture, tourism, eco-friendly industries — including the promotion of energy-saving technologies and renewable energy sources — and medical and nursing care services with the goal of creating new markets and new employment opportunities.
Mr. Abe appears to favor restarting nuclear power plants and building new ones. But a majority of the public wants Japan to eventually end its reliance on nuclear power because its safety cannot be guaranteed in this quake-prone country. If nuclear power plants are restarted, their nuclear waste storage facilities will be full in several years. The technology to safely store high-level radioactive waste permanently does not exist. Mr. Abe should ask himself whether he can take responsibility for the devastating environmental problems that will arise from another nuclear disaster involving a power plant or the storage of radioactive waste.
In the diplomatic arena, Mr. Abe should make serious efforts to mend ties with China and South Korea. He must refrain from making moves that will be seen as provocative by them. Mr. Abe must ensure he has strong communication channels with China and South Korea that will enable him to diplomatically resolve any problems that arise with either country.
Mr. Abe also should not forget Okinawans’ anger over the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma from Okinawa Island’s Ginowan City to the Henoko area in the northern part of the island. As long as he sticks with this plan, Okinawan anger will not abate and the situation surrounding the bases there will remain unstable, taking a toll on Japan-U.S. security cooperation.
Finally, Mr. Abe should not try to revise the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9. Given Japan’s militarist past, such a move will only deepen suspicions in the international community about Japan’s true intentions, thus jeopardizing the nation’s interests and security rather than improving them. Any attempt by the prime minister to exercise the right to collective self-defense could subject the Self-Defense Forces to international situations that Japan cannot control. Given the prime minister’s hawkish stance, his future moves on defense issues should be closely watched.