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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Election Results Show Support for Bolstering Japan’s Defenses

Japanese voters on October 31 let the ruling LDP retain the majority, and give a four-fold increase in seats to one small party that favors more aggressive defense policies.

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The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) proved able to retain a stable majority of its own in the October 31 nationwide election for the House of Representatives. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida can be said to have won a mandate from the electorate. Together with its Komeito coalition partner, the LDP thus continues to enjoy an absolutely stable grip on power. Consequently, the ruling coalition will chair all the standing committees and can pass legislation without opposition party votes. 

Nevertheless, the LDP did lose a number of seats in the election. Furthermore, LDP secretary-general Akira Amari, a key figure in the administration, was defeated in his home district, and only revived through the proportional representation, allowing him to continue as a Diet member. To take responsibility, Amari asked PM Kishida to let him resign from the party post.

Prime Minister Kishida and the LDP must sincerely reflect on the election results, and allow thorough debate in the Diet. 

At the same time, it must not dally in implementing its policy initiatives. After all, an Upper House election is scheduled to take place next summer. The party must move to fulfill its campaign pledges. 

2021 Defense of Japan annual white paper

Urgent Need for COVID-19 Policies

Implementing effective policies to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 is an issue of long continuing concern. Even though the infection situation within Japan has settled down, no one knows what the future holds.

It cannot be denied that criticism of how the government has dealt with COVID-19 up till now contributed to the loss of seats by the LDP. The pandemic has caused economic misery for many individuals and businesses. Furthermore, at one stage there were 135,000 patients nationwide who needed hospitalization, but instead were treated at home because of a shortage of hospital beds.

The Kishida administration has proposed increasing the number of hospital beds available to COVID-19 patients by 20% from the peak of the fifth wave of infections. Now it must translate its words into action. 

The government is also now preparing to start providing a third round of vaccinations. We want to make sure that procurement and the administration of shots will take place without disruption. At the same time, approval and supply of oral drugs needs to be expedited.

It is also time for Japan to consider forceful measures such as lockdowns as options for dealing with epidemics. Prime Minister Kishida has been hesitant on this score, but he should reconsider his position.

As for the economy, recovery from the COVID-19 slump should be a top priority. Naturally, fiscal measures should be considered to provide adequate assistance to those households and companies that need it. The first step is to expedite the fleshing out of our economic policies. 

With flows of people and consumption finally starting to pick up, fixation on the scale of the fiscal countermeasures is probably unavoidable. policies should be carefully scrutinized in terms of their urgency and effectiveness in helping private demand to recover on its own. 

The Kishida administration also needs to spell out its proposal for a “new capitalism” that will build a strong middle class based on the twin pillars of growth and distribution. Faced with charges by the Constitutional Democratic Party and other opposition parties that Abenomics has failed, the LDP has sought to pursue this alternative strategy. Under it, emphasis is on income redistribution so that the benefits of growth do not flow disproportionately to large corporations and the wealthy class. 

The wage level in the economy as a whole needs to be raised if we are to rectify the income imbalance. This is a thorny issue that former prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga were not fully successful in achieving. We do not need temporary redistribution by simple handouts of money. Rather, the path forward should encourage companies to make ongoing salary increases on their own.

Foreign policy and national security did not become major issues during the election. That contrasted with the situation during the general election four years ago when the nuclear and missile issues involving North Korea were seen as a national crisis. 

Nevertheless, on the very day that this election for the House of Representatives was officially announced, North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. 

Then, during the election campaign, a combined fleet of 10 Chinese and Russian warships circumnavigated the Japanese archipelago. Also, Russian and Chinese ships in the vicinity of the Izu islands undertook helicopter exercises involving the dispatch of helicopters toward the Japanese islands. This caused Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter aircraft to scramble in response. The Chinese and Russian actions constituted blatant intimidation directed against Japan.

Yukio Edano, Head of the major opposition party Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, whose party lost seats in the general election.

Early Visit to U..S for Top-level Talks

The security environment surrounding Japan has become quite severe. The ruling and opposition parties should be devoting more time to discussing responses to related issues, such as the Taiwan crisis, the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea, and that country’s nuclear and missile programs. 

Instead, the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), Japan Communist Party (JCP), and some other opposition groups want to abolish “unconstitutional parts” of the Law for Peace and Security. Such a course of action would foreclose recognition of the limited exercise of the right of collective defense and render the Japan-US alliance dysfunctional. 

The CDP did not waver in its strategy of engaging in electoral cooperation with the JCP and certain other parties. It should realize that this line of cooperation with the JCP, a party with which it has fundamental policy differences, will likely continue to block its path to power. 

With the danger of such policies and severe international situation in mind, Prime Minister Kishida and the ruling parties should provide concrete direction and speak out publicly about the necessity of deterring China and bolstering Japan’s defenses. Their failure to forcefully convey this message was one of the reasons why the LDP lost so many seats in the election. 

Nippon Ishin no Kai leader Ichiro Matsui, who party made unprecedented gains in the general election.

Many voters who wanted to send a protest message to the ruling parties apparently opted to vote for the relatively small Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), whose seats in the Diet increased four-fold, from 11 to 41 seats. Hopefully, this newly emboldened party will take the lead in the debate on constitutional reform while promoting realistic defense policies. 

The Kishida administration will not be able to preserve peace unless it promotes defense improvement and economic security while enhancing efforts to deter China. Hopefully, it will strive to clearly explain to members of the public what is needed and fairly persuade them. 

As a next step, on the evening of October 31, the Prime Minister signaled that he would like to visit the United States at an early date to hold talks with President Joe Biden. Such a meeting is needed to discuss the Taiwan issue and overall strategy towards China, as well as how to further strengthen the Japan-US alliance.

(Read the Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun