The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito overwhelmingly won in the Upper House election on Sunday and garnered more than a majority of the seats of the Diet chamber, ending a divided Diet.
But the parties should not think that people have given them a carte blanche since they were greatly helped by a low voter turnout of 52.61 percent, lower than the 57.92 percent for the July 2010 Upper House election, and by the fact that votes cast for the opposition forces were divided among many opposition parties.
The low voter turnout indicates that some people have given up hope on politics. In addition, there clearly is a discrepancy between people’s opinions on nuclear power generation and constitutional revisions — important issues in the election — and the LDP’s stance on these issues. People need to strictly watch whether the Abe administration’s policy will actually enhance their well-being and happiness.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday night the election results showed that people wanted his administration to push its economic policy forward in a stable political condition. But he should pay attention to the fact that polls had shown that a majority of people oppose the restart of nuclear power plants, which Mr. Abe’s administration is pushing.
The LDP is the only party that does not call for eventually ending nuclear power generation.
Polls also had shown that people who oppose revisions of Article 96 and the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution number more than those who support revisions of these articles.
In the election campaign, the LDP, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party called for changing Article 96 so that the process of amending the supreme law can begin with a concurring vote of a simple majority of all members of each House of the Diet, instead of the two-thirds or more required at present.
The weakening of Article 96, a mechanism to prevent an imprudent revision of the Constitution, is a dangerous move because it will make it easy to weaken or even gut the constitutional principles of sovereignty resting with the people, pacifism, freedom of thought, speech and expression, and freedom of assembly and association.
While campaigning, Mr. Abe hardly mentioned constitutional revisions, a policy on nuclear power generation and Japan’s entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement, another important issue.
Instead, he devoted much time to selling his economic policy, which brought higher stock prices and a lower yen value with the help of the Bank of Japan’s massive monetary easing. But people should be aware of possible pitfalls of his economic policy.
Higher stock prices do not benefit ordinary citizens. Higher prices of imported items caused by a cheap yen have started to affect people’s lives.
The BOJ’s policy could result in inflation not accompanied by wage raises. It also could cause an economic bubble. If the BOJ fails to successfully craft an exit strategy, it could devastate the Japanese economy by causing distrust in Japan’s financial discipline, thus causing a big fall of government bond prices and a steep rise of interest rates.
The Abe administration also has a tendency to neglect the socially weak as shown by its decision to decrease the core benefits for people on welfare. Its deregulation policy for the labor market can weaken the position of workers.
The LDP, the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party failed to get two-thirds or more of the entire 242 Upper House seats in Sunday’s election. Thus they are unable to initiate a process for revising the Constitution although these parties already occupy more than two-thirds of the Lower House seats.
Of the 121 seats that were up for election this time, these parties gained 81 seats, just two-thirds of the 121 seats. Mr. Abe will continue to make efforts to revise the Constitution. People should strictly watch his moves. The role of Komeito to check his moves will be all the more important since the party is cautious about weakening Article 96.
While the LDP won a record 65 seats, one seat more than the LDP’s record in the 2001 Upper House election when Mr. Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister, the Democratic Party of Japan suffered a great setback by garnering only 17 seats, fewer than half of the 44 seats the DPJ held among the 121 seats up for election and a record low in the party’s history.
The DPJ must make strenuous efforts to rebuild itself by honing policies aimed at stabilizing the lives of ordinary citizens and workers. Although the party opposed weakening Article 96, its members are divided on other aspects of constitutional revisions. It must overcome this internal division.
The fact that the Japan Communist Party gained one seat each in the Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto electoral districts — for the first time in 12 years, 15 years and 15 years, respectively — is symbolic. In these electoral districts, the DPJ won no seats.
This shows that some voters skipped the DPJ and voted for the JCP, which had strongly criticized the Abe administration’s policies and clearly opposed weakening Article 96, Japan’s entry into the TPP, and the restart of nuclear power plants. The DPJ must learn lessons from the JPC’s victory in these districts.
In Tokyo, Mr. Taro Yamamoto, an independent who called for abolition of nuclear power generation, also won a seat. This shows that people’s opposition to restarting nuclear power plants is strong.
In Okinawa, Ms. Keiko Itokazu from Okinawa Shakai Taishu-to (Okinawa Social Mass Party), a local party, who called for moving the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of Okinawa Prefecture won the seat.
These facts show that Mr. Abe’s policy line is not wholeheartedly supported. Opposition forces must make efforts to form a united front to check the excess of the Abe administration.