The campaign for the July 21 Upper House election officially kicked off Wednesday. The results of this election will have a great impact on the future of Japan because it is being fought over extremely important issues such as constitutional revisions, nuclear power generation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact. Voters need to read campaign promises and think carefully before casting their votes.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will eagerly try to sell his economic policy, which is coupled with massive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan. But small and medium-size companies and local economies have not benefited from his policy.
It must not be forgotten that if a large amount of money is poured into an economy in which businesses’ desire to increase capital investment and people’s purchasing power are weak, it is likely to cause an economic bubble. Opposition parties must present alternative, convincing economic policies to voters.
These days Mr. Abe is playing down his call for weakening the Constitution’s Article 96, which is designed to prevent imprudent constitutional revisions. But the Liberal Democratic Party’s campaign promise includes draft revisions to the Constitution that would change Article 96 so that amendments could be initiated with a concurring vote of a simple majority of all the members of each House of the Diet, instead of the present two-thirds or more.
Such a move will make it easy to weaken the principle that sovereignty rests with the people; the no-war principle; freedom of thought, speech and expression; freedom of assembly and association, etc. — all the basic and important tenets of the Constitution.
Even if political forces favoring weakening Article 96 do not get a two-thirds majority of the Upper House in the coming election, Mr. Abe will try again in the 2016 Upper House election. Voters should take into account the possibility that Mr. Abe will dissolve the Lower House in 2016 to hold a double election in an attempt to revise Article 96.
If the LDP wins the coming election, Mr. Abe will likely introduce a bill to guard national secrets along with a bill to create a National Security Council. Such a bill will restrict people’s right to know what their government is doing, limit the activities of journalists and lead to the accumulation of more national secrets, thus weakening the foundation of democracy.
Mr. Abe will also likely to change the interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense. Voters must pay sufficient attention to these possible future moves by the prime minister.
The LDP is the only party that appears eager to restart nuclear power plants. Political parties must delve into the question of whether it is safe and rational to operate nuclear power plants in this quake-prone country and whether there is adequate technology to safely store high-level radioactive waste.
The TPP includes an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. This could empower global business enterprises to supersede policies and actions of the central and local governments in such areas as environmental protection, food safety and social welfare, including health insurance. Political parties have not fully discussed this point. Voters need to carefully consider the nature of the ISD mechanism.
The LDP government rarely talks about social welfare, an issue that will become increasingly important in Japan’s future. Political parties should discuss how to create a sustainable social welfare system while ensuring there is sufficient support for the needy.
Voter turnout for the last Upper House election in 2010 was only 57.92 percent. To boost turnout in the coming election, political parties must make serious efforts to come up with policy platforms that truly address the needs of the people.