The campaign for the July 29 Upper House election has officially started. It is the first national election since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in September 2006. Under the Abe administration so far, the Fundamental Law of Education has been revised to instill patriotism in children and strengthen state control of education, and the Defense Agency has been upgraded to a Defense Ministry, among other things. The election results will deliver voters’ verdict on Mr. Abe’s politics.

Although pension-related problems are expected to be the No. 1 issue, Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party treats constitutional revision as the top item in its campaign pledge. The LDP’s draft constitution calls for turning the Self-Defense Forces into full-fledged armed forces. Under the referendum law for constitutional revision, the Diet can initiate amendments to the Constitution in three years. Each candidate’s view on the Constitution should be important in deciding whom to vote for.

Mr. Abe’s political leadership will also be judged in the election. One of his Cabinet members has quit and another has killed himself over the issue of “money and politics.” A third has quit after saying the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “couldn’t be helped.” Mr. Abe’s current agriculture minister is under criticism for providing unconvincing funds reports on office expenses from his support organization.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the No. 1 opposition party, is emphasizing the stabilization of people’s lives. It proposes using revenues from the consumption tax for paying the base portion of pensions while keeping the tax rate at the current 5 percent. It also proposes paying farmers the difference between production costs of staple crops and their market prices. The party must clearly explain where it thinks the revenue will come from to finance its proposals.

Depending on the election results, the heads of the LDP and the DPJ may have to step down and political parties may be realigned. Voters need to carefully study each party’s policies and candidate’s thinking.

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