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Election campaigning is already gathering real heat, even before the June 25 general election is officially announced on June 13. This electoral schedule had been regarded in recent weeks as a de facto political timetable, but, in the event, the opposition parties’ imminent filing of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s Cabinet compelled him to counter with a dissolution of the House of Representatives last Friday.

Four opposition parties — the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party — were to have taken the step of a no-confidence motion to censure Mr. Mori for his blunder in describing Japan as “a nation of gods centering on the Emperor” in a speech before pro-Shinto politicians and representatives of religious organizations.

By putting his foot in his mouth in this way, Mr. Mori got himself into hot water. Adverse media hype and opposition groups’ reactions grew so intense it was as if his remarks had betrayed a vicious move on the part of the coalition government to overturn the nation’s polity, founded as it is on the postwar pacifist and democratic Constitution.

Criticism has focused on the allegation that Mr. Mori’s remarks contravened the basic principles of the Constitution, under which sovereignty resides in the people. If his remarks are taken at face value, this criticism is correct. But it is highly doubtful that those words, uttered by a politician known for his trait of speaking without thinking, represented exactly what he meant.

The truth seems to be that Mr. Mori’s remarks constituted lip service by an election-conscious politician who does not have a clear grasp of the crucial difference between the prewar and postwar polities of Japan. Attempting to make a political issue out of them by arguing over semantic details serves no purpose.

The real and even more serious problem involved is the fact that our government is headed by a politician whose integrity as the top leader has been subject to question. His silly remarks caused the popularity of the Mori government to plummet; his anachronistic-sounding words have thus done a great disservice to the ruling coalition, especially with the general election expected later this month.

In view of the crucial importance of this election, however, it is time for the curtain to be drawn on this political “divine comedy” and the focus shifted to policy issues. The coming election is extraordinarily important because its results will determine the basic course taken by this nation in the 21st century. Both the ruling and opposition parties must, in an unambiguous way, put their visions of future Japan to the voters. It should be pointed out in this connection that political alignments and realignments since 1993 — actually numbers games played without the benefit of any long-term political perspective — have been basically responsible for the people’s growing uncertainty over and distrust of the nation’s political processes.

Political parties have announced their respective campaign promises; economic recovery and fiscal rehabilitation are top-priority goals for every one of them. Social security, the Constitution, education and national security are also prominent objectives in their platforms. In their “basic policies,” which are intended to be “campaign promises,” for example, the governing parties list “structural reforms” but do not refer to the problem of how to solve the massive fiscal deficits. Meanwhile, the DPJ, the No. 1 opposition party, adopts policies of restoring fiscal soundness and lowering the minimum taxable income.

To varying extents, however, they all fail to show, specifically, how to reduce fiscal deficits or secure funds for improving social security. Restoration of fiscal soundness and a viable tax burden are the most important and urgent matters that the government emerging from the upcoming election will have to tackle. Solving these problems will inevitably impose an increased burden on the people, but voters will be convinced of the need for such measures only if the political parties offer them a clear vision of the future society that will result.

Essentially, politicians and political parties are to be blamed for the continuing decline in the public’s trust in politics and parties alike. But voters must also recognize that, in a democracy like Japan, politics are the product of endeavors made by both politicians and voters. In casting their ballots on June 25, therefore, Japanese voters must look far beyond such one-off issues as the current “divine comedy.”

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