As the campaign for the July 10 Upper House election kicked off Wednesday, the major parties unveiled their platforms to win over voters.
The ruling coalition regards the House of Councilors election as a key test of its economic policies, keeping mention of its more contentious goals low on its pledge list, while the opposition parties are casting the poll as a decisive moment for the nation’s democracy.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, tried to get ahead of the pack by unveiling its campaign pledges at the beginning of June.
The LDP listed a range of positive economic figures that it claimed resulted from the Abenomics policy mix of fiscal spending, monetary easing and deregulation. The party’s campaign is prioritizing what it terms a “good cycle of economics” as the “only way” to bail Japan out of its deflationary spiral.
Hoping to achieve ¥600 trillion in GDP, the party pledged to log economic growth while restoring the nation’s fiscal health. It vowed to continue driving innovation and raise productivity so “the fruit of growth” trickles down to small and midsize companies as well as regional economies.
Abe’s long-held, but publicly contentious, goal of revising the Constitution is still on the LDP agenda, but mention of the controversial amendments have been relegated to the very bottom of the party’s long list of pledges. It also said it would keep the three basic principles outlined in the Constitution: that sovereignty lies with the people, that people are guaranteed basic human rights and that the nation maintains a pacifist stance.
The LDP claims amending the U.S.-drafted postwar Constitution has been a fundamental goal since the party’s inception in 1955 and it pledges to deepen discussions on revisions by cooperating with other parties and gaining a public consensus.
On energy policy, the LDP will continue to push for the restart of nuclear power plants, which it believes are an “important base-load power source” that offer stable and cheap electricity, while emphasizing that the priority is safety.
To address problems involved with child-rearing and elderly care, the party is pledging to increase the number of nursing-care homes to accommodate 500,000 more elderly people, and make day care services available for 500,000 more children.
On labor policy, the LDP has vowed to encourage flexible working styles such as telework and flextime. To fill the nation’s labor gap, it said it will allow foreign workers to work “in areas where shortages of manpower cannot be filled only by Japanese nationals and whose void could have a severe impact on society.” It refrained from specifying sectors.
The LDP’s junior ruling coalition partner, Komeito, shares the LDP’s basic policies but puts more emphasis on social security and human rights.
In line with the coalition, Komeito advocates raising the consumption tax in October 2019. But it is also pushing to introduce a lower tax rate on food and beverages if the tax hike takes effect.
Komeito is also favoring unique social security measures, including offering 1 million vacant houses as low-rent “safety-net housing” for nonregular workers, pensioners, families with small children and newlyweds.
It also seeks to “rectify” Japan’s refugee recognition system “to cope with a surge in the number of asylum seekers,” in apparent reference to criticism that Japan accepts too few refugees. It promised to beef up language training and other forms of support for people recognized as refugees in Japan and others who are granted similar protection for humanitarian reasons.
Komeito avoided taking a position on revising the Constitution; party leader Natsuo Yamaguchi reportedly said earlier this month that Komeito opted not to mention the issue because public debate “has not matured enough.”
Hoping to thwart the ruling bloc are opposition parties that include the Democratic Party, Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party.
To prevent the ruling coalition from securing two-thirds of the seats needed to propose a referendum to revise the Constitution, the opposition parties have agreed to band together to endorse joint candidates in all 32 single-member electoral districts.
The largest opposition force, the Democratic Party, issued a condemnation of the LDP’s campaign pledges soon after they were revealed.
The DP statement claimed the LDP merely touted what it hopes to achieve without offering concrete measures to reach its ambitious goals. The DP also said the LDP’s campaign pledge symbolizes their “high-handed approach,” as Prime Minister Abe has not apologized for failing to revive the economy to a level where the nation can sustain the consumption tax hike next April as originally scheduled. Instead, the LDP delayed the raise in the levy.
Calling the coming election “a battle between the Abe administration and the common sense of the people,” the DP is campaigning to revoke the contentious security laws and to review the state secrets laws to ensure more transparency.
Branding Abenomics a “failure,” the DP has vowed to push the Bank of Japan to end its negative interest rate policy. But regarding the consumption tax, the party said it would implement the tax hike in April 2019 — six months earlier than the ruling coalition’s schedule — on condition that the tax revenue is used for mid-level and low-income earners.
The Japanese Communist Party has made its anti-Abe stance even clearer.
The JCP has urged voters to stop the Abe administration from “getting out of control,” claiming politics in Japan is on the verge of returning to militarism and dictatorship.
Emphasizing the opposition alliance, the JCP has vowed to scrap the security legislation. It also said it would stop moves to revise the Constitution, which it says is a “treasure” that Japan can boast to the rest of the world.
On the consumption tax, the JCP said it will not raise the levy from the current 8 percent to 10 percent so as not to create a bigger burden for low-income earners.
Instead, it will hold off on the current government plan to cut the corporate tax rate for big companies, which would result in added tax revenue of ¥6 trillion.
The JCP also pledged to shutter all of Japan’s nuclear plants and work to source 40 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable energy by 2030.
It also promised to negotiate with the U.S. toward the closure of all U.S. military bases in Okinawa by revising the “unfair” Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. As for North Korea’s nuclear threat, it said diplomatic efforts — not the security legislation — are necessary to get the reclusive state to attend the now-stalled six-party talks seeking to end its atomic ambitions.
The leftist Social Democratic Party has similar anti-Abe policies to the JCP in key areas such as the consumption tax and the constitutional revision.
Once the largest opposition party, the SDP has vowed to beef up the nation’s social security safety net by implementing rules to prevent karoshi, or death from overwork. It also pledged to work to improve the oppressive working conditions for anime and manga creators, computer programmers and other creative sectors.
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