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Official campaigning for the Dec. 14 Lower House election started Tuesday, but voter enthusiasm remains low.

The boring, abstract policy pledges by the major parties may be at least partially responsible for the lack of voter engagement.

When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, dissolved the Lower House, he stated that he needed voters to endorse his decision to postpone the planned consumption tax hike to 10 percent next year.

With the economy having recently slipped back into recession, no parties are coming out against Abe’s decision, despite the nation’s swelling social welfare outlays. Thus the policy differences among the parties appear to be vague.

In addition, most parties, while spouting rosy election pledges, have avoided citing specific financial resources, numerical targets or deadlines to implement the projects they are promising to deliver.

This is a significant departure from the 2009 Lower House election, when many major parties, in particular the Democratic Party of Japan, tried to substantiate their policy pledges with various numeric figures.

These collections of promises, backed up with numerical targets, went by the British political term manifesto.

But after that election, which saw the DPJ come to power and the LDP-Komeito alliance relegated to the opposition camp, the DPJ-led government was harshly criticized for not delivering on many of its manifesto pledges. This backlash has apparently discouraged major parties from committing themselves to numerical targets for the current campaign.

For example, in its current manifesto, the DPJ pledges to carry out measures to “revive the middle class” by curbing rises in gasoline prices, increasing spending to help child-rearing households, consolidating public pension systems and increasing support for low-income earners.

But numerical targets or budgetary resources to carry out these proposals are nowhere to be seen, making these pledges wishful slogans rather than concrete plans.

The LDP likewise isn’t explaining how it would pay for its election pledges.

For example, the ruling party promises to maintain its goal of posting a surplus in the primary budget — a key indicator of fiscal soundness — by fiscal 2020 despite Abe’s decision to postpone the consumption tax hike.

In particular, the LDP has not explained how it will make up for the expected fall in revenue due to the postponement. Now many experts doubt Abe’s government will meet the 2020 goal.

The biggest focal point in the policy debates to date is whether to back the “Abenomics” economic agenda, including the ultraeasy monetary policy, aggressive fiscal spending and structural reforms to raise Japan’s long-term growth potential.

All of the opposition forces have criticized Abe’s handling of the economy, but they are split into two camps.

The DPJ, the Japanese Communist Party, Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party) and the Social Democratic Party denounce Abenomics, claiming it has only benefited big companies and lowered the standard of living as real wages decline.

Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) and Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations) have meanwhile deemed Abenomics the proper solution, but complain that the prime minister has failed to meet his goals.

Ishin no To has argued that the Abe government has been unable to carry out drastic structural reforms, in particular in the agricultural, medical and public service sectors.

Jisedai no To has maintained that the Bank of Japan should retract the latest round of additional monetary easing measures, arguing that a ¥200 trillion fund with government guarantees should instead be created to invest in selected public works projects.

As for nuclear power, Abe’s LDP has pledged to “promote reactivation” of commercial reactors suspended in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima crisis if the Nuclear Regulation Authority says they meet the newly introduced safety standards.

The DPJ and Ishin no To said they aim to abolish all of Japan’s reactors over the long term by promoting renewable energy and conservation measures. The JCP, however, clearly says that no reactors should be reactivated and all should eventually be scrapped.

Jisedai no To, on the other hand, is the most aggressive in promoting nuclear power. The ultra right-wing party has pledged to maintain “the world’s most advanced nuclear technologies,” without mentioning any reduction in the number of the nation’s reactors, many of which are at or near the set limit of their operational life.

Where the parties stand

Touch swipe table right/left to view.

Abenomics LDP Komeito DPJ
It says the package has created jobs and profits, but urges more time to fight deflation and to help rural areas. Same as the LDP. The DPJ says Abenomics has hurt workers, citing decreases in real wages. It pledges to help the middle class.
Ishin no To Jisedai no To JCP
Supportive, but the party pledges structural reforms, where it says the LDP has failed. The party supports Abenomics but places less emphasis on monetary easing. Sharply critical, the party says Abenomics has benefited only corporations and market investors.
Consumption tax LDP Komeito DPJ
It says the sales tax hike, pushed back to April 2017, will not be delayed again. It pledges lower rates on daily necessities. Same as the LDP. DPJ wants no hike in the consumption tax while the LDP remains in power.
Ishin no To Jisedai no To JCP
Wants the consumption tax hike suspended. Wants the hike suspended, pending more fiscal and social security reforms. Abolish the planned hike. Tax corporations and the rich.
Nuclear power LDP Komeito DPJ
The LDP will promote restarting reactors once the Nuclear Regulation Authority assures their safety. Komeito will decide on restarting reactors only after safety is guarantee and public backing is secured. The party would pull the plug on nuclear reactors by the 2030s, and is against restarts without comprehensive evacuation plans for locals.
Ishin no To Jisedai no To JCP
Ishin no To would phase out reactors in favor of renewables and local co-generation plants. Believes Japan must maintain its world-class nuclear industry and technological lead. Opposed to restarts, the party would abolish nuclear power.
Constitution LDP Komeito DPJ
The party aims to revise the Constitution after calling a national referendum. The party is open to adding new articles. It urges caution over additions to the war-renouncing Article 9. Opposes arbitrary reinterpretation of the Constitution.
Ishin no To Jisedai no To JCP
Wants revisions to create regional governments and the election of the prime minister by popular vote. The party would write a new Constitution with emphasis on traditional values. Wants to uphold Article 9, and is opposed to reinterpretation allowing for collective self- defense.
Others LDP Komeito DPJ
The LDP says it will enact security laws, including legislation based on reinterpreting the Constitution to cover such measures as collective self-defense. Komeito pledges to support the middle class, including lower rates on housing loans. Argues for a delay in implementing the state secrecy law until third-party monitors are beefed up.
Ishin no To Jisedai no To JCP
Would cut roughly one in three Diet seats and reduce lawmakers’ pay by 30 percent. Wants to cut foreigners from baseline welfare, promising a new program for them. Would boost full-time jobs and require equal benefits for nonregular workers.

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