National / Politics

Voters focus on tax hike and Constitution as Japan's Upper House election campaign begins

Kyodo

As campaigning for the Upper House election began Thursday, voters voiced their opinions on key topics that could change the course of the nation, such as the planned consumption tax hike, the pension system and constitutional amendment.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to raise the consumption tax from 8 percent to 10 percent in October, but opposition parties are against this, saying it will further strain purse strings.

Kawasaki resident Kazumi Taniuchi, 68, is worried that the tax hike will increase financial pressure at a time when she and her retired husband have already been trying to cut their spending now that they are both reliant on pensions.

“When I think about becoming ill or being in need of nursing care, I feel very insecure,” she said. “Politicians and bureaucrats don’t understand the reality of average citizens.”

Masami Sakuma, 53, who works at a metal parts factory in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, said he does not feel the economy is improving under Abe, but thinks an increase in the consumption tax is not necessarily avoidable.

“Opposition parties only say they are against it, and have not presented specific alternatives,” he said, when Japan, faced with a rapidly aging population and ballooning deficits, is struggling to secure new sources of funding for its welfare system.

A 79-year-old man from Yokohama was skeptical about how the additional revenue from a tax hike would be used, saying he believes “it will not get to people who are suffering.”

Another issue brought into focus ahead of the July 21 election is the amendment of war-renouncing Article 9 of the postwar Constitution, by which Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party seek to give clearer legal definitions for the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

Some SDF members said they feel uncomfortable about Abe’s emotional approach, while others called for more debate before making such an amendment.

A senior SDF official said it is ideal for the SDF to be stipulated in the article, but “only under the condition that people fully support the idea.”

“If the Self-Defense Forces are treated like a symbol of constitutional amendment, that would be against my will,” the official said.

Takao Izutsu, a 49-year-old former Ground Self-Defense Force ranger, said the LDP’s plan to state that Japan can take measures to protect the country and its people means it can take part in a war elsewhere.

“If we are asked to take military action against other countries based on our alliance with the United States, there will be no grounds for refusing it,” he said.

“A constitutional amendment will change the foundation of the country … and we need a deeper national debate, even if we were to amend Article 9.”

Some young voters were against changing the pacifist Constitution, while hoping to see a change of government and a stronger economy.

“I don’t want it changed as I have learned the anti-war ideals reflected in the Constitution,” said a 20-year-old student in Tokyo.

“Since I was at junior high school, it has been Prime Minister Abe’s government, but there are many young people who are suffering financially, and we do not feel the economy is improving,” she said. “I want to see a different prime minister sometime soon.”

Abe has been leading the government since December 2012 and if he remains in power after Nov. 19 he will become the longest-serving prime minister in the nation’s history.

Younger voters said they feel it is becoming harder to get their voices heard and have their opinions reflected in parties’ policies.

A 22-year-old student in Tokyo said he was pessimistic about the power of his vote.

“I don’t think my single vote can change anything,” but added he still intends to cast his ballot.

“I want politicians to make policies to help reduce the burden on younger generations,” he said.

The pension system has come under fire after a government report estimated that a couple would need ¥20 million in savings to maintain their standard of living in retirement.

“I don’t have confidence that I can repay my student loan, have a family, and save money all at the same time,” a student in her 20s said.

“I want politicians to design a system in which we can feel secure after retirement,” she said, adding she hopes the election will serve as a “turning point” in that direction.