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Analysis: Politicians' insincerity leaves voters in the lurch ahead of Japan election

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a Liberal Democratic Party meeting on Sept. 30, 2017. (Mainichi)
Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara speaks in Sendai on Sept. 27. (Mainichi)
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike speaks at an event marking 100 years since the establishment of the Tokyo suburban city of Hachioji on Oct. 1, 2017. (Mainichi)

The words of some politicians ahead of the House of Representatives election this month seem rash. Matters are decided upon and things said, only to be reversed days later. Politics is in turmoil as a result of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's dissolution of the lower house, which has been called self-serving. At the same time, politicians are scurrying about in confusion, raising the question of what voters should believe and what criteria they should adopt in casting their votes.

Abe has been under fire for attempting to divert public attention from scandals involving school operators Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Educational Institution by calling the election. When dissolving the lower house, he said he would provide an explanation to voters via the election, yet he has not made any reference to the scandals when speaking in public. What's more, he has avoided mention of revisions to the nation's Constitution, which his administration has included among its election pledges.

Seiji Maehara, leader of the opposition Democratic Party (DP), meanwhile, initially provided assurance that all members of his party would merge into the newly formed Party of Hope led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, but Koike then declared that she would exclude liberal politicians. Maehara stated that this was expected, surprising those around him.

The Mainichi Shimbun asked two experts for their take on the situation. One of them, political analyst Atsuo Ito, pays close attention to Abe's statement at the time the lower house was dissolved that he had made "repeated efforts to provide careful explanations."

"I was stunned," Ito said. "It's a mystery how this did not cause a large problem." He also called into question regional campaigning by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in spite of an understanding that, in light of tensions with North Korea, the top government spokesman would stay in Tokyo while the prime minister was absent.

"To put it bluntly, it's a lie. Can this be permitted?" he asked.

Japanese filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda, who is based in the United States, took a critical view of the changes in politicians' statements.

"They appear to be making statements while knowing these are lies," he said. "The prime minister has not provided a 'careful explanation' on the Moritomo and Kake scandals at all. If he was going to provide an explanation, then dissolution of the house at the outset of an extraordinary Diet session would be unthinkable. In the end, he's just evading suspicions."

Soda also took a swipe at the Party of Hope.

"In its party mission statement, it says that it will 'stand on constitutionalism and democracy,' but it is using its policy agreement as a test of allegiance for candidate members without revealing how it intends to revise the Constitution. Where is the constitutionalism in that?" he asked.

The filmmaker has doubts about the Party of Hope calling for the election to be one for voters to choose a new administration.

"Ms. Koike has not ruled out forming a coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after the election. Even if people cast their votes for the Party of Hope as a way of telling the Abe administration, 'No,' they could find themselves left with a grand coalition with the party cooperating with the LDP and Komeito."

Ito, meanwhile, questions Koike's announcement to exclude liberally minded politicians.

"She has a lot of ability to deliver a message, but not to envisage the reaction, although transmitting information while drawing mental pictures is what politicians do," he said.

Soda went on to say, "I guess people may have the mindset of victims suffering from domestic violence. Politicians repeatedly 'hit' them with lies, but each time the victims retain a glimmer of hope, thinking the words may be true this time. But then they are betrayed and fooled, and the only option is to give up. Rather than following the political situation, it's more important for them to inspect the words and actions of individual politicians, and see through their lies."

Ito adds, "Politics is all about words, but there is a strong tendency for politicians to nonchalantly say things that conflict with past statements with a makeshift approach. And there is a general mood for people to accept that."

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