Japan greets the new year with political stagnation and dysfunction inherited from 2008. The stifling atmosphere nationwide is due not only to deepening economic difficulties caused by the global financial crisis that started in the United States but also to the failure of Prime Minister Taro Aso’s administration to act quickly to implement measures to stimulate the economy, stabilize people’s lives and lay the foundations for future economic growth.

Opposition forces are also partly responsible for this situation. They failed to fully take advantage of their majority in the Upper House to get the ruling bloc and government to concentrate on minimizing the effect of the global economic slowdown — either because of their lack of tenacity to achieve political ends or because of their artless Diet tactics.

Both ruling and opposition politicians should keep in mind that people’s deep despair over and resentment toward politics demand that they make utmost efforts to meet their goals when the Diet resumes its work Jan. 5.

The Japanese economy is in such a dire straits that major companies have announced production cuts and employee dismissals. Irregularly employed workers, in particular, including workers dispatched by temporary employment agencies, are going through hardships.

A Dec. 19 survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry shows that about 85,000 nonpermanent workers will lose their jobs by March 2009 — 2.8 times more than the corresponding figure found in the ministry’s Nov. 25 survey. In addition, at least 2,100 of these workers will lose their residences. These surveys prove that the economy is rapidly worsening.

Nonpermanent workers now account for about one-third of the nation’s workers. The surveys show that companies are apt to rely on an easy recourse to cope with the economic downturn — simply reducing production and dismissing nonpermanent workers. If this practice spreads, it could undermine the fabric of Japanese society. Politicians should be ashamed of the fact that while some local governments have started helping dismissed nonpermanent workers by offering them job opportunities, the central government has done little.

As Japan is expected to head into further difficult economic conditions this year, it is all the more important for the government, politicians and people to remember Article 25 of the Constitution: “All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living.” It requires the government to strive to realize that right.

Today’s sad political state of affairs began with the resignation of Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in September 2008. Mr. Fukuda had touched on a worthy philosophy when he called for the introduction of the consumer-first principle — as opposed to the traditional principle of assuming that the producer came first. He also succeeded in having his Cabinet endorse the decision to free up the use of revenues from road-related taxes so that additional funds could be used for such purposes as education and social welfare. But Mr. Fukuda lost political steam and could not turn his ideas into reality.

In resigning Mr. Fukuda was hoping that a “new face” for the Liberal Democratic Party would attract enough votes for the LDP in a future election. His successor Mr. Aso was supposed to play this role by dissolving the Lower House for a snap election. But he didn’t do that; instead, he said he would put priority on coping with the economic crisis that Japan is facing amid the global financial crisis.

Yet, he did not submit to the Diet a second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008, which is necessary to implement his first economic stimulus package. Whatever the reason, this was an illogical and unreasonable decision. The nation lost precious time as the economy deteriorated more and more. In the meantime, people’s uneasiness and dissatisfaction have deepened as they face economic difficulties as well as concerns about pension, medical and nursing care services.

It is clear that people want to have general elections as soon as possible, and Mr. Aso is the third consecutive LDP prime minister not to stand through general elections. But it will be difficult for him to dissolve the Lower House for general elections while the Diet discusses the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 and the fiscal 2009 budget. Given the Diet schedule, Mr. Aso may dissolve the Lower House in April or May.

People want convincing policy measures. All of the political parties should work out detailed campaign platforms. Their policy measures should be coherent and feasible and accompanied by the financial means to implement them. They should tell people in a clear manner how they will overcome the current economic crisis as well as how they will strengthen social security and revitalize local economies, which were already issues before this economic crisis hit the nation.

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