The tripartite coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party have managed to win an “absolute comfortable” majority that will enable them to control all standing committees in the powerful Lower House and chair them as well.
The result in the general election June 25 means smooth sailing in the Diet for the ruling bloc as it tackles the mounting policy tasks ahead. But coalition leaders must mull the meaning of the drubbing they took in several city constituencies, especially the LDP’s loss of several veteran lawmakers that included incumbent Cabinet members who failed to be re-elected despite winning more votes than they did in the 1996 general election.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Japan, which achieved a major gain in seats, must consider why many of its former Socialist-affiliated candidates lost and its more conservative members won. The shift in the leftwing-conservative power balance within the DPJ appears to reflect the changing political inclinations of salaried workers in urban districts. These parties need to fully take their election results into account as they assemble their post-election strategies.
Why? Despite the 2.4 percent growth in gross domestic product Japan enjoyed in the January-March quarter — a surge aided by demand for exports, spending in the housing sectors and brisk corporate capital investment — a full-scale recovery still appears out of reach unless consumer spending makes a substantial rise.
For that to happen, policymakers must try to dispel the sense of uncertainty consumers harbor about the future. They need to design a map explaining how they will solve the nation’s structural and socioeconomic problems.
Of particular concern to corporate employees is the fate of their pensions. Workers are left to wonder whether a solution exists for the pension’s unfunded liabilities, whether they will be guaranteed decent benefits for what they put into the system, or whether they will be forced to accept payments on a lower level than what they were led to believe.
And who will be covering the ever-growing medical expenses of the elderly?
These are just a few examples of the questions that lawmakers are being pressed to answer. If we merely shove these issues aside, we will only be forcing the burden onto future generations.
How to redistribute the wealth between the national and local governments is another tough question. Through tax grants and subsidies handed out from the state coffers, urban taxpayers are forced to cover the cost of massive public works projects in rural Japan, including outdated ones decried as a waste of money. How long do they have to put up with this?
The results of the House of Representatives election clearly show that voters want lawmakers to answer these questions. Each political party will need to quickly come up with solutions to those structural problems if it wants to gain voter support in the next election. The author is worried that the younger generations, if they conclude they will have to shoulder higher welfare and tax burdens, may decide to leave Japan to seek better opportunities abroad. We must avoid losing, at all costs, the precious human resources that support the nation’s future.