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The campaign for Sunday’s Lower House election has seen more heated debate than usual about the direction Japan should be taking, with issues ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to Asia’s increasingly volatile security environment and what to do about nuclear power weighing on voters’ minds — raising the stakes for the ruling coalition.

All 465 seats will be up for grabs. The ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito are expected to exceed a simple majority of 233 but fall short of the 305 mark, which is the number of seats they held prior to the election.

The ruling coalition is looking to win citizens’ approval for its track record over the past nine years — a period that has seen a pandemic, increased Chinese assertiveness and North Korean missile tests as well as drastic monetary easing — with recently installed Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as a fresh face at the helm. The opposition camp, meanwhile, is criticizing the ruling parties’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, economic policies that favored the rich as well as a political culture that they characterize as one of cronyism and favoritism.

Diplomacy and national security are also hotly contested issues in the campaign. While the ruling coalition and even the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), agree on working with the United States and like-minded countries, opposition groups are at odds on those subjects.

On that point, the ruling parties have attacked the CDP’s strategy of cooperating with the Japanese Communist Party to field unified candidates in single-member districts, highlighting the JCP’s opposition to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and its assertion that the Self-Defense Forces are unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, the JCP insists it will only cooperate with the CDP in a “limited” capacity if the CDP wins the election.

Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, speaks during a campaign event in Tokyo's Suginami Ward on Oct. 19. | BLOOMBERG
Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, speaks during a campaign event in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward on Oct. 19. | BLOOMBERG

Here is a breakdown of where the major ruling and opposition parties stand on various issues:

Diplomacy and national security

The LDP is calling for stronger cooperation with Australia, India, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European countries and Taiwan to advance the free and open Indo-Pacific policy, with the Japan-U.S. alliance acting as the cornerstone of the country’s diplomacy. Regarding Taiwan, the LDP supports its move to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and participate as an observer at the World Health Organization.

On China, the LDP insists that Tokyo should assert its stance on human rights and call on Beijing to act responsibly over issues including Hong Kong, Tibet and the treatment of the Uyghurs.

Komeito, the junior coalition party, similarly criticizes China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu. On human rights issues, Komeito is pressing Beijing to be transparent.

The LDP is calling for an increase in defense spending to potentially over 2% of gross domestic product, a departure from the current informal limit of 1%. The party plans to conduct a “fundamental review” of the national security environment and revise the National Security Strategy and other related policies. To reinforce deterrence, the party is in favor of acquiring missiles capable of striking enemy bases.

Incorporating one of Kishida’s signature projects into the manifesto, the party advocates promoting further nuclear disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation. Komeito has gone further, arguing in favor of Japan taking part in a meeting of signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an observer.

An election campaign staff member holds leaflets of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo on Oct. 19. | REUTERS
An election campaign staff member holds leaflets of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo on Oct. 19. | REUTERS

With the “healthy” Japan-U.S. alliance as the centerpiece of the nation’s diplomacy, the CDP wants to promote multilateral cooperation with neighboring countries in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly India and Australia through the “Quad” security grouping.

At the same time, the party is campaigning for a revision to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement — allowing Japanese authorities to enter U.S. bases in the event of an accident or a criminal case — and halting construction related to the relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture to the district of Henoko.

The party says it will “resolutely” respond to China’s ongoing attempts to change the status quo in the South China Sea and its provocations around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. The CDP seeks to amend legislation to strengthen Japan’s coast guard system and territorial surveillance.

As part of an effort to unify opposition candidates in single-member districts, the four left-leaning opposition parties — the CDP, the JCP, the Social Democratic Party and Reiwa Shinsengumi — have signed an agreement on promoting joint policies.

In it, the opposition parties endorse the idea of Japan participating as an observer to the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty. They also are championing the abolition of some parts of the national security-related legislation passed under the Shinzo Abe administration, which they say are unconstitutional.

Economy and economic security

The LDP is aiming to achieve both growth and wealth redistribution to revive the Japanese economy, with the goal of empowering the middle class. It is calling for tax breaks for corporations willing to raise wages and the advance of administrative reforms to facilitate digitalization.

To spur growth, the LDP is pushing massive investment in science and technology, allocating as much as ¥30 trillion over the course of five years as part of government investment into research and development. It will also create a ¥10 trillion fund to bolster research at universities and is pledging to secure enough funds for the nation to quickly recover from natural disasters.

In addition, the LDP is beefing up its commitment to economic security, embracing policies intended to secure robust supply chains for critical materials, such as rare earths, and enhance cybersecurity and the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, batteries and medicine. The party will also push for legislation on economic security aimed at stopping sensitive technologies from being leaked to other countries.

Komeito supports expanded subsidies to raise the wages of employees working at small businesses and resuming the Go To Travel domestic tourism stimulus program once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

The four united opposition parties put more emphasis on redistribution rather than growth to reduce economic inequality — they support raising the minimum wage and better treatment of temporary workers and freelancers. They also back expanding public support for housing, education, health care, nurseries and elderly care, as well as redistribution to low-income earners and the middle class. In addition, they favor lowering the consumption tax while ensuring the wealthy pay more in taxes.

The CDP aims to achieve what it calls an “all-middle-class society” through redistribution. The party advocates for effectively exempting all individuals whose annual salary is about ¥10 million or less from income tax and temporarily lowering the sales tax to 5%, while at the same time increasing the income and corporate tax rates for high earners and large businesses.

Constitutional amendment

The LDP has been an ardent promoter of constitutional amendment. The party has laid out four specific proposals, including specifically mentioning the Self-Defense Forces in the war-renouncing Article 9 and establishing a provision granting the Cabinet stronger powers in an emergency. It is hoping to advance debates in both chambers of the Diet and eventually hold a referendum.

Komeito takes a more cautious approach to amending Article 9. Instead, it is calling for the establishment of a system enabling Diet debates and voting to take place online in an emergency.

The four left-leaning opposition parties are united against amending the Constitution as proposed by the LDP. The CDP opposes the plan to add a reference to the SDF, while the JCP denounces the LDP’s proposals, which the party sees as allowing Japan to participate in a war.

Energy and the environment

The LDP is sticking with a commitment made under then-Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve that objective, the party is promoting the restart of nuclear power plants that have met safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, while soliciting understanding from municipal officials in the places where the reactors are located. At the same time, the party is advocating for the expansion of renewable energy and reducing reliance on nuclear energy.

Komeito takes a stronger stance on phasing out nuclear energy, arguing that new power plants shouldn’t be built and pushing efforts toward decarbonization through thermal power generation.

The four opposition parties have jointly agreed on the need to achieve decarbonization and eliminate coal-fired power generation through the expansion of renewable energy. The CDP is against building additional nuclear power plants and has set an aim of having renewable energy generate 100% of the nation’s electricity by 2050. The JCP calls the government’s emissions-reduction goal — 46% by fiscal 2030 — inadequate, pushing for between 50% and 60% by that fiscal year, which runs begins April 2030.

Coronavirus response

The LDP has pledged that all individuals who wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get their second dose by early November, and the party is also making preparations for the administering of booster shots.

To restart the economy and increase the vaccination rate by incentivizing people to get their shots, the party will turn to electronic vaccine passports. The party is also pressing for the expansion of free PCR testing and antigen testing at home.

To reduce COVID-19 deaths and the number of severely ill patients and those recovering at home, it will make newly developed oral medicine available nationwide. The party will continue to support a range of financial aid for struggling businesses.

The LDP proposes strengthening the chain-of-command in public health emergencies and amending legislation so that the government has greater powers to suppress foot traffic and procure medical resources. It will consider building a framework for the swift approval of vaccines and drugs in a public health emergency.

A supporter receives flyers for Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, during a campaign event in the Shimbashi district of Tokyo on Oct. 19. | BLOOMBERG
A supporter receives flyers for Yukio Edano, head of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, during a campaign event in the Shimbashi district of Tokyo on Oct. 19. | BLOOMBERG

Komeito is calling for the reinforcing of the health care system, including through the use telemedicine and house calls, as well as the bolstering of daily PCR testing capacity, raising it from 330,000 to 1 million.

The opposition parties, meanwhile, are promising to enhance the health care system by shifting away from cuts to government health care spending. The CDP, for example, stresses the need to revise plans to consolidate public hospitals and reduce hospital beds. It also supports better conditions for medical professionals, including by giving them a ¥200,000 bonus, increasing staff at public health centers and expanding PCR testing.

On border control, the CDP calls for quarantining all people entering Japan for 10 days or longer at hotels rented out by the government.

Social issues

Komeito and the opposition parties support married couples being able to use separate surnames, while the LDP is reluctant to endorse such a move, merely stating in its manifesto that it will work to mitigate disadvantages associated with continuing to use original surnames at work and in everyday life.

On LGBT matters, Kishida was the only person at a debate at the Japan Press Club on Oct. 18 who did not support introducing legislation to promote understanding on LGBT issues by the 2022 ordinary Diet session. Although the party’s manifesto calls for “swift” enactment of LGBT-related legislation submitted by Lower House members, Kishida said he did not want to specify the time frame for its passing.

The CDP, meanwhile, supports reforms to the Technical Intern Training Program and the nation’s refugee recognition system, both of which have been subject to intense scrutiny from abroad. The opposition party is pressing for the introduction of a system that gives equal protection to foreign and domestic workers alike, as well as legislation to ensure refugee recognition and protection systems are functioning properly.

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