Editorial: New government must work for stability with humility
The results of the Dec. 16 House of Representatives election likely represent the public's desire for stable and consistent politics. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) came away with an overwhelming single-party majority, as well as over two-thirds of the lower house seats with ally New Komeito, staging a dramatic return to power about three years after their defeat in 2009. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), meanwhile, suffered a devastating blow.
Voters returned to the LDP amid disappointment with DPJ administrations that not only failed to bring about political change, but showed meandering leadership from beginning to end, and uncertainty that so-called "third force" parties could not be fully trusted to take the helm. LDP President Shinzo Abe, who will become the next prime minister, must accept his party's "easy" landslide with humility. It is the duty of the new administration to be modest about its win, commit to consensus building, and end the country's political confusion.
Relentless headwinds blew against the DPJ on election day. Meanwhile, the tailwinds that once appeared as though they would significantly boost third-force parties were limited. As the low turnout indicated, voters faced an agonizing choice from among 12 parties, and ended up leaning toward the LDP. The latest victory is comparable to the LDP's sweep in the 2005 "postal reform" election and the DPJ win in the 2009 "regime change" election.
Three years from the regime change, the shock that's been dealt to the DPJ from a staggering defeat that saw numerous incumbent Cabinet members lost their seats is even greater than that which it suffered in the 2005 election. Voters expressed such disapproval of the DPJ because of their sense -- not unlike anger -- that their hopes that the party would bring about political change were repeatedly betrayed.
The DPJ's 2009 manifesto effectively broke down due to the party's failure to secure financial resources for its campaign promises, and its "politician-led politics" morphed from extreme efforts to remove bureaucrats to dependence on those very bureaucrats. A twisted Diet led to political gridlock, and relations with neighboring countries deteriorated to critical levels. Voters' mistrust of the party's ability to govern undoubtedly grew as intraparty fighting and pathetic Cabinet reshuffling continued even after the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Considering the grievous state of government finances, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda made the right choice by working to raise the consumption tax. However, Noda was unable to put forth a vision for Japanese society, including the social security system, and has revealed his intention to step down as DPJ leader. It will not be easy to rebuild the party, whose fundamental problem lies in its loss of a clear objective since it took over government.
Third-force parties that challenged the dominance of the LDP and DPJ with promises of real change did not in the end shake things up very much. The Japan Restoration Party (JRP) did win a significant number of seats, but Toru Hashimoto's decision to merge with Shintaro Ishihara made the party's stand difficult to understand.
The Tomorrow Party of Japan and other parties pushing a zero-nuclear policy did not offer entirely convincing road maps for achieving their goals. Meanwhile, those who withdrew from the DPJ and joined other parties at the last minute looked opportunistic.
Amid such activity, the LDP emphasized a "return" to what was, rather than "change." And while voters sensed that the party -- which kept its distance from the political realignment of other parties -- had preserved its factions and other old-fashioned characteristics, they may have decided that the party was at least better than the others.
The LDP's emphasis on measures against the high yen seems to have been effective with business confidence down and the economy battered, especially in outlying regions. While both the single-seat constituency system -- in which the dominant political party tends to attract the most votes -- and the fragmentation of the DPJ had a great impact on the election, the LDP's victory cannot be explained as a simple product of the electoral system.
Still, the results do not give the LDP carte blanche. A revival of the "old" LDP, which relied on hand-outs through public works projects, is out of the question. The party must not forget that it was toppled from power three years ago.
In particular, the party's strongly conservative slant, including talk of revising Article 9 of the Constitution and renaming the Self-Defense Forces the National Defense Army, and of stationing civil servants on the Senkaku Islands, is of concern. Uneasiness over the possible spread of narrow-minded nationalism in Japan has also been voiced abroad. Unless the government rebuilds its diplomatic relations with a cool head, the country could become isolated.
Even with a revival of an LDP-New Komeito coalition, the Diet will remain "twisted" with the DPJ holding a majority in the House of Councillors, and there is no guarantee that this twist will be eliminated in the upper house election next summer. Just because the coalition now has over two-thirds of the lower house seats and can revote on bills that have been voted down by the upper house, it should not depend on its numbers alone. Instead, it should seek to form alliances on a policy-by-policy basis.
It is clear from the election results that the agreement reached previously by the LDP, New Komeito and the DPJ on social security and tax reform should be firmly upheld. It is the responsibility of the ruling party to implement tax reform, further the National Council on Social Security System Reform's deliberations, and map out a vision for pensions, health care, and measures for low-income populations.
It would be unacceptable for the new administration to avoid taking a clear stand on nuclear power, or to regress on the DPJ government's line to eliminate the nation's dependence on it. The ruling and opposition parties must commit to consensus building, while formulating strategies to deal with the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and securing energy supplies.
The New Komeito is wary of revising Article 9 and approving the right of collective self-defense. Trying to hastily push through with constitutional revision encouraged by the relatively large presence of pro-revision forces such as the JRP could strain the coalition. The government should not make any mistakes in prioritizing policies, and work to govern as an LDP-New Komeito coalition with the collaboration of the DPJ.
If the new prime minister assumes power before the end of the year, 2012 would be the 7th year in a row that the post has changed hands. It goes without saying that frequent changing of the nation's leader is an unusual situation seen not only as a problem domestically, but also in terms of having an international voice.
The government must learn from the upper house swing-back and "twist" resulting from the superficiality of the administrations that won by landslides in the past two general elections. We'd like to see the new administration steadily institute reforms that will allow the new lower house lawmakers to serve out their four-year terms. Whether that will happens depends on how Prime Minister Abe does at the reins.
December 17, 2012(Mainichi Japan)