National / Politics

Voters express concerns over Constitution, sales tax and lack of viable opposition

by Ryusei Takahashi, Masumi Koizumi and Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writers

Constitutional revision, a consumption tax hike and the future of the pension system were on the minds of voters as they took to polling stations across the country to cast their ballots in the triennial Upper House election on Sunday.

Reporters from The Japan Times spoke with voters in Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka to find out who they voted for and why.

Many favored the ruling Liberal Democratic Party for the sake of continuity or the lack of strong opposition candidates, while others cast ballots for the opposition to avoid supporting the LDP-Komeito ruling bloc.

Outside a polling station at the Suginami Ward Office, a 44-year-old woman who works in the construction industry said she voted for the LDP because the party promotes public works. The woman, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Arai, said the “political stability” of the conservative LDP also appealed to her.

It has been about 6½ years since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also doubles as the LDP president, started his second stint as prime minister in 2012. If he stays in office until Nov. 20, he will become the longest-serving prime minister ever.

Arai gave high marks to the Abe administration’s diplomatic efforts, including Abe’s friendly relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, calling America “Japan’s important ally.”

Still, Arai said she cannot support constitutional revision — a topic that Abe is keen to push forward, especially in regard to his long-held desire to rewrite the war-renouncing Article 9.

“I’d feel safer if that section remains the same as it has been,” she said, citing fears that his changes may end up “forcing some people to go to war.”

Arai said she expects little from the opposition parties.

“They are weak,” she said, criticizing the parties for spending too much time bashing the current administration and stressing over trifle matters. “They should spend more time on debating topics that concern our future.”

A 42-year-old office worker who also voted in Suginami Ward and only gave his surname, Suzuki, was essentially on the same page with Arai about the opposition. He contended that more “constructive discussions” among the parties are necessary. Suzuki voted for the conservative opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai, partly because of its reformist image.

A 25-year-old Suginami Ward resident, who wished to be identified only by her surname Akiyama, said she cast a ballot for the Reiwa Shinsengumi political group.

Akiyama prioritized the party’s pledge to abolish the consumption tax. She said Reiwa Shinsengumi’s argument about alternative financial sources, such as progressive taxation for both corporate and income taxes, seemed well-grounded.

Akiyama said her evaluation of the Abe administration is “very low,” adding she does not feel that the Japan’s economy is improving. She believes her salary is higher than average for people of her generation yet she cannot afford to save any of it.

She also holds a “negative impression” of amending the Constitution, insisting that “we should value the background against which Article 9 was created.”

Hachiro Ozawa, a 73-year-old retired architect from Yokohama, said he voted for the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition party.

He said it would be fine if the LDP continued to rule, but he did not want the ruling party to have too much power and get the two-thirds supermajority it needs in the Diet to initiate a referendum on the Constitution.

“It would be ideal if seats in the Diet were allocated equally, otherwise their decisions on legislation regarding, for instance, constitutional revision, will be one-sided,” he said, explaining that he opposed revision of the charter. “We need a stronger opposition,” he concluded.

“I agree with the opinion that the LDP’s governance isn’t faulty,” said Shigeru Kurihara, 78, from Yokohama, who voted for the LDP and has supported the party since he was old enough to vote.

Kurihara was aware of the numerous scandals that have tainted the ruling party and the “problems with its governance,” such as the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

“But even if the LDP lost its power to the opposition, I doubt there’s any other party that would handle society’s problems as well, that’s why I voted for it,” he said. “For people in our age, it’s a safe option. I just think the LDP will handle things better.”

A 55-year-old woman from Yokohama who works at a hospital and gave only her last name, Kato, said she was worried over the eye-opening report issued by the Financial Services Agency — but refused by the LDP finance minister — that suggested Japan’s pension system might not be able to support people after retirement.

Still, she said she voted for Abe’s LDP anyway.

“But it’s hard to trust the opposition parties,” she said. “There are too many parties now and their programs are confusing.”

Takeno, a 29-year-old hospital staffer from Yokohama, said he voted for the LDP as the other parties were not convincing.

“I don’t support all the LDP’s policies, but there was no other party that convinced me to vote for them,” he said.

In Osaka, voters expressed concern about the local economy. Hideki Nakamura, a 35-year-old entrepreneur in Osaka, voted for the Osaka-based Nippon Ishin.

“Their ideas for spending cuts for Diet members I agree with and they’ll look out for Osaka’s economy in ways that the LDP and Komeito won’t.”

Staff writer Eric Johnston contributed to this report

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