Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has said voters don’t want an early election, and that they are keen for the new government to tackle the economic and social fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Yamaguchi’s comments, made in an interview Wednesday, come as some in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party have called for a swift vote to take advantage of the high support rates he has garnered since taking office Sept. 16.
The new prime minister himself has said he wants to get some work on policy implementation done before calling an election, which doesn’t need to be held until about a year from now.
"What is it the people want more than anything? It’s for the coronavirus infection to be under control. They want us to bring social and economic activity back to normal,” said Yamaguchi, who was this month selected without opposition for a seventh straight two-year term as leader of Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner. "The trend in opinion polls shows people don’t want a political vacuum.”
Backed by a lay Buddhist group, Komeito provides vital local support for the ruling LDP in elections. The party’s focus on practical issues chimes with Suga’s agenda, which includes cutting mobile phone charges and providing insurance coverage for fertility treatment.
Suga, the 71-year-old son of a strawberry farmer, came into office with some of the highest support rates on record for a new Japanese prime minister, with voters backing his pledges of continuity for managing the virus-hit economy.
Any sign of departure from the previous government’s flexible fiscal stance and ultra-easy monetary policy could send the yen surging and stocks sliding, triggering a re-evaluation of the outlook for the nation.
Suga has been keen to bolster consumption to help steady the economy, which suffered its worst downturn on record in the second quarter.
Yamaguchi said the government should monitor the effects of campaigns backed by Suga to do just that, by subsidizing domestic travel and eating out as well as analyzing the July to September GDP figures, set to be released in November, before deciding what further measures should be taken.
Asked about funding of further policies, Yamaguchi said the surplus of more than ¥7 trillion from this year’s second extra budget should be used to cover appropriate and timely policies before a third extra budget is considered. The party opposes any temporary cut to the consumption tax, he added.
Japan relaxed its border controls from Thursday with mid- to long-term foreign residents being allowed to enter the country, though tourists will remain banned. Yamaguchi said he saw this kind of move as a step toward holding the delayed Tokyo Olympics next summer.
"We don’t yet know for sure what will happen with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, but Japan really wants to stage them,” he said. "To that end, we should gradually return economic activity to a normal path, especially travel to and from overseas, with a proper testing system.”
Travel between Japan and China has remained under strict control, even as the country has opened to some business travel from other Asian nations.
Suga’s administration must also thread the needle between its biggest trading partner and its only military ally, the U.S., even as they clash over everything from trade to data security.
Yamaguchi, whose party is known for its warm ties with China, said the situation should be improved, and that a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping that was postponed due to the virus in April should take place once the environment is ready.
"The international community wants the two countries to work together for peace and prosperity,” he said. "From a broad perspective, it’s important to improve relations so that leaders, including President Xi, can pay mutual visits, and the people of the two countries more generally can also do so.”