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Editorial: Abe gov't should remain humble when speaking about 'future'

In a policy speech at the launch of an extraordinary session of the Diet on Sept. 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored his focus on the economy. He also expressed a desire to speed up discussion on amending the Constitution and achieving a solution to the Northern Territories issue.

    These issues can be seen as a reflection of the prime minister's mid- to long-term outlook, formulated on the heels of the House of Councillors election win that strengthened the foundations of his administration.

    But "Abenomics" has reached an impasse, and the administration has come under pressure to handle various issues on the diplomatic front. Rather than merely serving its own interests, the administration needs to humbly agree to debate issues with the opposition.

    Forces in favor of revising Japan's Constitution now have the two-thirds majority they need in both houses of the Diet to initiate constitutional amendments, and Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has entered the current Diet session with its first sole majority in the upper house in 27 years.

    In his policy speech, Abe used the word "future" 18 times. This probably represents the strong desire he has to tackle mid- to long-term issues in an administration with a solid base.

    What stood out was Abe's reference to the Constitution. Speaking in connection with his desire to see constitutional changes introduced during his term in office, he requested deeper debate in Diet commissions on the supreme law and declared, "It is our responsibility as Diet members to present a draft (for revision) to the public."

    But this way of putting it raises doubts. For one thing, Abe, as the head of the executive branch of the government, said the Diet (the legislative branch) has a "responsibility" to initiate constitutional change. His statement also gives the impression that constitutional revision is an established policy. To be sure, forces in favor of revising the Constitution obtained the two-thirds majority that is needed to initiate constitutional changes following the upper house election win. But in the election, constitutional revision was not brought up as a point of contention.

    In fact, the ruling coalition has not even narrowed down which items of the Constitution to amend. If debate is to proceed smoothly in the Diet, the LDP draft for constitutional revisions, which is fraught with problems, must first be ditched.

    Alongside revision of the Constitution, Abe has also sought active engagement with Russia in negotiations on the Northern Territories issue. He expressed a desire to bring the issue to a conclusion, stating, "We will bring an end to the abnormal situation in which there is no peace treaty (between Japan and Russia), and open up major possibilities for cooperation between Japan and Russia."

    We can understand the administration's idea of putting a strong regime to work in foreign relations, but in his policy speech, Abe made no reference to Japan's new security legislation or the fact that the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa has become bogged down in confrontation with the Okinawa Prefectural Government. Has he not lost balance here?

    The Abe Cabinet faces many problems that remain to be solved.

    Abe stressed anew in his policy speech that he would accelerate Abenomics. But the Bank of Japan has not managed to achieve its goal of raising consumer prices with an inflation target of "2 percent in two years," as it initially promised. And it has faced a slog in achieving economic growth. As a result, the administration has been forced to delay increasing the nation's consumption tax.

    The Abe administration has put forward plans to support child-rearing and students, but there is no "future" without the backing of stable fiscal resources and reforms for a sustainable social welfare system.

    If Abe has his sights set on a long-term administration, then he needs to review operation of the administration to date and lend an ear to the arguments put forward by the opposition parties.

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