Ahead of the Upper House election on Sunday, party leaders and executives were asked the main issues they want to raise with voters, including the economy, the pension system and constitutional revision.
Despite growing concerns triggered about the pension system by a recent government report, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai emphasized that it is sustainable and said the report, released on June 3 by the Financial Services Agency, caused a public misunderstanding.
“The public pension system is sustainable well into the future thanks to a series of reforms,” Nikai said. “I have no worries.”
The FSA report said an elderly couple would need ¥20 million in life savings plus public pension benefits to survive after retirement.
“It’s a shame to cause misunderstanding and anxiety,” Nikai said.
Referring to the LDP’s election campaign, Nikai underlined that it is important for the LDP to present its plans for dealing with Japan’s low birthrate and rapidly graying population.
“It is also necessary that the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to firmly and stably address important challenges, such as making a strong economy, revitalizing local communities and establishing a disaster-resistant country at a time when the world is grappling with increased tensions,” he said.
The Abe administration has won high marks for its stable management of the government and solid achievements, Nikai added.
“I think this is a situation where we can ask the public with confidence to let the Cabinet continue to take charge in the Reiwa Era,” he said, referring to the new imperial era kicked off by the emperor’s abdication in April.
Nikai said the minimum number of seats targeted by the ruling camp, which comprises the LDP and Komeito, is 63, or a majority of the seats being contested. “It will not be difficult if we try hard,” he said.
He also downplayed the impact of the major opposition parties unifying their candidates in all single-seat prefectural districts. No matter how much they team up, they cannot compete with the LDP’s traditional solidarity, Nikai said.
Nikai, however, brushed off concerns about how the scheduled hike in the consumption tax to 10 percent from 8 percent in October will affect the LDP’s prospects in the election. The oft-delayed tax hike is part of reforms designed to bring stability, he said, adding that measures to mitigate its impact are already in place.
Nikai said both the ruling and opposition camps should meet halfway to promote discussions on constitutional revision.
“The Diet has a responsibility to present options that the people can choose from,” he said.
One of Abe’s lifelong goals has been to rewrite Article 9 of the Constitution to legitimize the existence of the Self-Defense Forces, Japan’s de facto military.
Scholars have disputed the legality of the SDF because Article 9 renounces Japan’s right to wage war or use force to settle international disputes. It also says Japan shall never maintain land, sea and air forces or other war potential.
“We need to take time to reach agreement, but time should not be spent in vain,” Nikai said of the Diet’s stalled debate on the issue.
The Upper House election is an opportunity for voters to choose between stable government and confusion, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi said.
“As a ruling party, we hope to tackle key challenges at home and abroad after securing political stability,” Yamaguchi said.
The LDP and Komeito, the ruling coalition’s junior party, have a two-thirds majority in the Lower House and a majority of about 60 percent in the Upper House.
On the consumption tax hike, Yamaguchi recalled the 2012 law enacted by the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the LDP and New Komeito to double the 5 percent levy to 10 percent in two stages. He called the opposition now being raised by former members of the now-defunct DPJ, including those who are now executives in the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, a “great betrayal of the public.”
“The consumption tax is fundamentally significant as a stable source of government revenue for improving social security services,” Yamaguchi said.
He said Komeito will address the tax hike in its campaign by sincerely explaining steps the ruling coalition has taken to ease its impact, including special shopping vouchers.
He also proposed that all Diet members accept a 10 percent cut to their annual salaries to show they are willing to help bear the burden.
Regarding public alarm bells raised about the public pension system by the FSA’s June report on postretirement savings, Yamaguchi described the system as “stable.”
On Article 9, however, he cast a skeptical eye toward Abe’s pitch to make constitutional revision a key issue in the election, saying it is “unlikely to appeal to voters.”
Komeito’s policy is to add new provisions to the charter, if necessary, without changing its basic principles.
“There are various ideas about including new values in the Constitution, but none of them is ripe enough for a proposal to the people,” Yamaguchi said.
The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan will focus on improving people’s daily lives as a key pillar of its platform, President Yukio Edano said.
“The largest interest of voters and the most important issue is bringing back a sense of safety to people’s lives,” Edano said. “We will campaign on the three major platforms of creating an economy that places importance on family finances, a society that takes pride in diversity, and a democracy in which people can feel they are participating.”
Sunday will be the main opposition party’s first foray into the triennial election. The party was formed in 2017 by defectors from the short-lived and now-defunct Democratic Party. Edano said his CDP will seek to uphold democratic norms and constitutionalism in its election campaign.
He also lamented what he said was the Abe administration’s tainting of the government bureaucracy, saying the supposedly nonpolitical institution has been marred by political influence scandals since Abe took office.
“(The administration) is continuously destroying the foundations of democracy, which is epitomized by the preservation of official records and the public disclosure of information,” Edano said, bringing up the multiple scandals related to the disappearance or manipulation of public documents under the Abe administration.
“A series of scandals has come up as a result of (bureaucrats) having to pander to politicians,” he said.
In this regard, he also raised the issue of sontaku, the practice by which bureaucrats tacitly carry out what they assume to be the wishes of politicians, spawning acts of favoritism and other alleged government misconduct.
To counter these alleged violations, the CDP is pitching “Reiwa Democracy” for the election. The slogan is a play on Taisho Democracy, a wave of democratic movements that took place in the Taisho Era (1912-1926).
“Democracy in Japan was given a major upgrade by Taisho Democracy,” Edano said. “We must do something that matches its scale.”
On the Constitution, Edano said his party is moving forward with discussions on revisions “from the standpoint of strengthening constitutionalism,” specifically focusing on restricting the right of the prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election, and bolstering citizens’ rights when it comes to information disclosure.
The Constitution is one of the major issues in the election because Abe is bent on legitimizing the existence of the SDF by rewriting war-renouncing Article 9.
“We will strongly fight against allowing the exercise of collective self-defense and changing Article 9 for the worse,” Edano said, referring to the act of coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack, even if Japan itself is not under attack.
Although a U.N. right, collective defense is deemed by many as contrary to Article 9 as Japan’s actions under it could be perceived as use of force.
The opposition leader also repeated his party’s call to again suspend the second stage of the consumption tax hike.
“It takes an immense amount of time to rebuild an economic structure in which consumption rises in a sustainable way,” he said, wary that another tax hike will again chill consumer spending.
The CDP will join hands with other parties in the election to avoid splitting the vote for the opposition. Many in fact have already agreed to back a single unified candidate in single-seat constituencies.
“We have fulfilled the prerequisites for maximizing the number of seats the opposition can win,” Edano said. “Now it is up to each party to utilize its strengths and work as hard as possible.”
Nippon Ishin no Kai
Ichiro Matsui, leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai, has called for earnest discussions on proposals for constitutional amendments to be held in the Diet after the election.
While noting it feels “a little bit strange” to see this become a key issue in the election, Matsui said he hopes the constitutional revision panels in both chambers of the Diet will hold active debates on the matter after the poll. As a top election issue, politicians owe it to the voters to hold serious debates on the matter, he said.
“If the ruling LDP earnestly aims to revise the Constitution, it should change the Diet’s existing obsolete rule” that the Constitution panels must be convened with the consent from both the ruling and opposition parties, he said.
“Opposition parties that refuse to appear for discussions on constitutional revisions or avoid such debates are giving up on their duties,” Matsui said.
On recent remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump that the Japan-U.S. security treaty is placing a heavy burden on the U.S. and is therefore unfair, Matsui said it would be irresponsible to pretend not to know the view of the president of an allied country.
Discussions should thus be held on the possibility of revising Article 9 in light of the reality, he added.
Matsui also called for discussions on establishing a national facility where anybody can pay tribute to the war dead, noting it is very difficult for Japanese and overseas leaders to visit Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo because those it honors include Class A war criminals from World War II.
The Shinto facility is regarded by countries such as China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Matsui said Nippon Ishin also sees a need to create an intelligence agency as Japan’s information-gathering capacity is lower compared with other advanced countries.
Among the party’s key policy promises, Matsui said Nippon Ishin aims to freeze the planned hike in the consumption tax.
The tax hike will “dampen consumption and throw cold water on the economy,” he said.
The Abe administration plans to use revenue from the tax hike to fund a program to make nursery and kindergarten services and tertiary education free of charge.
Noting that the Osaka Prefectural Government is working to scrap tuition for private high schools, Matsui, who is also the mayor of Osaka and head of regional party Osaka Ishin no Kai, emphasized it it is possible for the central government to eke out the financial resources it needs without raising taxes.
He also said that Abenomics, the prime minister’s reflationary policy mix, had helped Japan overcome deflation “to a certain extent” but that its deregulatory efforts “remain insufficient,” though the economy is recovering moderately.
Matsui denied the possibility of Nippon Ishin forming a coalition government with the LDP.
“The LDP is a party that protects vested interests,” he said. “While having no intention at all to reform the Diet, the party plans to carry out a tax increase. Nippon Ishin has no plan to ally with the LDP.”
The Democratic Party for the People is making its “household first” economic policy the center of its election campaign, leader Yuichiro Tamaki said.
“Stubbornly slow consumption indicates the weakest point of Abenomics, as well as its limitations,” Tamaki said.
“We’re advocating a ‘family finances first’ economic policy to enrich household purses and achieve sustainable economic growth,” he said.
Tamaki repeated his party’s opposition to the consumption tax hike and insisted that a tax cut should be considered without reservation if the need emerges.
In the meantime, he argued that the Abe administration is trying to cover up the truth behind Japan’s public pension system because it has not yet released the five-year report on the system’s finances this year.
On the issue of constitutional reform, Tamaki criticized Abe for deviating from substantive talks, saying the prime minister is only highlighting the refusal of some opposition parties to hold discussions.
Tamaki noted that during the previous Diet session, the DPP was the only opposition party to submit a bill to revise the national referendum law to ban political TV commercials throughout the entire campaign period of any referendum on the Constitution.
This is to ensure that a public decision on amending the charter won’t be determined by the parties with the deepest pockets.
Before July 4, when campaigning officially kicked off for the Upper House election, the DPP had 23 seats in the chamber, with eight up for grabs.
“We aim to win more than eight seats,” Tamaki said.
Tamaki stressed that opposition parties, including the DPP, must coordinate their campaigning after fielding unified candidates in the 32 single-seat electoral districts across Japan.
To drum up support for his party, Tamaki underscored the need to make steady, low-key efforts, calling on all DPP Diet and assembly members to “work at full throttle.”
Earlier this year, the DPP absorbed the Liberal Party, which was led by former kingmaker Ichiro Ozawa.
“We’re leaving behind-the-scenes coordination with our support groups to him now,” Tamaki said. “His joining our party reinforced our attitude toward elections.”
Tamaki predicted the next election for the House of Representatives, the Diet’s more powerful lower chamber, will be held this year.
“We aim to field at least 100 candidates in the single-seat districts,” he said.
Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii has emphasized that the JCP and other opposition parties should unite to win seats to create a divided Diet as a step toward toppling the Abe administration.
“The Abe administration is now at a dead end both in domestic politics and on the diplomatic front,” Shii said.
“In the triennial election, I want to call on people to cooperate to oust the Abe administration and change the nation’s politics to make Japan a country where each and every person can have hopes and live in peace,” he said.
Shii added: “We’re determined to turn the LDP, its Komeito ally and groups supporting the ruling pair into a minority, create a divided Diet and let opposition parties take the initiative of politics to force Abe to dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap general election.”
“We aim to form an opposition-led government” by capturing a majority also in the Lower House through a possible general election, he said. “We want to leverage the Upper House election for that goal.”
On the debate over constitutional amendment, Shii said the JCP is actively discussing the matter and that no political party is avoiding the debate.
“Whether or not to support Abe’s proposal to amend pacifist Article 9 of the top law will be a key issue,” he said.
The JCP aims to win 8.5 million votes under the proportional representation system.
“It’s a high goal, but I think it’s not impossible to achieve if we try hard,” he said.
A total of 124 seats — 74 in prefectural single-seat districts and 50 from proportional representation — will be up for grabs in the Upper House election.
The JCP has 14 but only eight will be contested — three single seats and five proportional representation seats.
Its goal is to gain seven or more seats via proportional representation, Shii said.
“We’re resolved to maintain the three district seats at any cost and are trying to increase the number dramatically,” Shii said.
When asked about the number of seats the party is targeting in single-seat districts, he said “all of our candidates aim to win.”
“Cooperation among opposition parties is progressing compared with the time when the previous Upper House election was held three years ago,” Shii said. “We do hope to attain the target.”
Shii repeated his party’s opposition to the planned tax hike.
He said: “We oppose the consumption tax itself. Raising the tax rate during the current economic doldrums is an absolutely foolish measure.”
The Social Democratic Party aims to prevent the parties that support constitutional revision from securing a two-thirds majority in the Upper House election, Secretary-General Hajime Yoshikawa said.
The ruling LDP is highly likely to speed up preparations for an attempt at amending the Constitution should the pro-amenment camp get there, Yoshikawa said.
“The biggest challenge for now is to block the LDP, its coalition partner Komeito, and Nippon Ishin no Kai from winning a combined two-thirds majority,” he said.
Two-thirds majorities are needed in both chambers to propose a revision to the Constitution.
Though Abe is eager to rewrite Article 9, “very few” people want such a revision, he said.
“If a third provision is added to the article, it would make its second provision, which prohibits Japan from possessing any war potential, a dead letter,” Yoshikawa said. “We can’t let that happen.”
“Under current diplomatic policy, just following the United States, such a constitutional revision could lead to SDF participation in activities involving the use of force overseas if something happens in the Middle East,” he said.
In the election, the party hopes to win a combined three seats via single-seat districts and proportional representation, he said.
The top priority is to win 2 percent of all votes to maintain its status as a political party, he added, stressing that, for the SDP, the poll is a fight for survival.
This will also be an election to create a foothold for ousting the Abe administration, which has brought crisis to the people, regional communities and the Constitution, he said.
On the consumption tax increase, Yoshikawa said that when the rate was raised to the current 8 percent from 5 percent in April 2014, consumer spending slumped even though the economy was recovering.
Since the economy is even worse than it was in 2014, it is clear that the tax hike will make it even weaker, he said.