The main problem voters face in Sunday’s Lower House poll is that no party has presented a clear vision to address public concerns about the future, according to journalist Soichiro Tawara.
Most people fear their living standard will fall in the future because they expect the state to raise taxes while reducing pension and other welfare benefits, said Tawara, who is known for his weekly TV debates with politicians.
“The greatest task before each party is to portray a bright future and wipe out public anxiety,” Tawara said in an interview. “But the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition has so far failed to do so.”
Although the LDP-New Komeito-New Conservative Party bloc knows “radical surgery” is necessary to revitalize the economy, it is putting off the operation, he said.
All parties know tax money has been wasted on public works, but they are helpless since they also know the economy relies on such outlays, Tawara claimed.
“Public works spending has become a necessary evil” in the economy, he said. “The opposition camp is also to be blamed for not proposing a painful but necessary and effective policy, for fear of losing votes.”
The campaign, however, brought to light an interesting point of contention when the Democratic Party of Japan first said during a TV program that if it assumes the helm of government, it would lower the minimum income threshold for income taxes, he reckoned.
When the LDP criticized the DPJ’s pledge as one that “bullies the weak” in society, DPJ Secretary General Tsutomu Hata insisted his party would legislate benefits for households with children.
“Hata’s remark sounded as if he wanted to retract the interesting proposal,” Tawara said. “Instead, he should have logically explained why the tax hike is necessary.”
The DPJ, which is unlikely to gain a majority in the election, should not have excluded the Japanese Communist Party as a prospective coalition partner when the LDP attacked the idea of a DPJ-JCP alliance, he said.
“The DPJ should have said that it will team up with any party that fits in with the DPJ’s policy, including the LDP and JCP,” he said.
Tawara noted that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s remark that “Japan is a divine nation centering on the Emperor,” which dealt a severe blow to the ruling bloc, may have actually redirected the ire of the opposition and media, which had been attacking the triumvirate for the “unclear and undemocratic” way in which he was chosen as prime minister.
Another bone of contention that may have been deflected is whether it was proper for the LDP to team up with New Komeito, which is backed by Soka Gakkai, Japan’s largest lay Buddhist group. The move was seen by some as a compromise of the principle of separation of church and state. In fact, the public approval rating for the late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s Cabinet fell after New Komeito joined the ruling bloc, he said.
“Those significant issues that would have been the coalition’s vulnerable spots were completely blown away with the ‘divine nation’ remark,” Tawara said. He predicted voters will not widely realign with the opposition, though the ruling camp will lose many seats.
“Voters don’t have an alternative” because the opposition has failed to propose a clear outline of an alternative government, Tawara said, noting that the ruling triumvirate will probably come out of the poll with more than 250 seats. “They will reluctantly vote for the LDP.”
But if the bloc fails to secure a majority, the JCP will hold the decisive vote on which side to take — the coalition or the DPJ — which makes the poll all the more interesting, he said.
Depending on the outcome of the election, some members of the LDP might defect and join hands with the DPJ to form an administration, Tawara said, not ruling out the possibility that Koichi Kato, leader of the LDP’s second-largest faction, and his followers might leave the party. “That could be earthshaking in politics.”